Sunday 6 December 2015

Scientists have found the remains of at least four types of sauropod dinosaurs around the Port Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela Bay area in the Eastern Cape, where previously it was thought they did not exist. Read more on this link:

Wednesday 18 November 2015

A new book out



A new book, freshwater Life, has recently been published by Striuk. Dr Helen James and Dr Ferdy de Moor are both invited contributors to the book, and have each written significant chapters for it. It is available now in book shops around the country. Dr Jame's chapter is on mayflies, and Dr de Moor on caddisflies.

For more information please contact Dr Helen James on

Albany staff present at SAMA Conference

By Linda Dyani

Albany Museum staff attended and presented papers at the South African Museums Association (SAMA) Conference (26th to 29th October in Durban). The Conference was hosted by SAMA KZN.

Ms Nozipho Madinda and Mr Phumlani Viwe Cimi presented papers entitled “Mobile museum educators and outreach officers as critical links for museum contributions in communities and vice versa and “Investigation of the species diversity, density, abundance and distribution of street trees in the Grahamstown area” respectively. The theme of the conference was “Museums for a sustainable society”. The event was attended by 350 delegates across the country.

The South African Museums Association says that museums can play a vital role in educating communities to create a sustainable ecological, economical and social environment.
The theme highlights the role of museums in raising public awareness about the need for a society that is less wasteful, more cooperative and that uses resources in a way that respects living systems.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) President, Prof Dr. Hans-Martin Hinz says, ”Museums, as educators and cultural mediators, are adopting an increasingly vital role in contributing to the definition and implementation of sustainable development and practices. “Museums must be able to guarantee their role in safeguarding cultural heritage, given the increasing precariousness of ecosystems, the situation of political instability, and the associated natural and man-made challenges that may arise.
 Museum work, through education and exhibitions, for example, should strive to create a sustainable society.
We must do everything we can to ensure that museums are part of the cultural driving force for the sustainable development of the world”

Cultural Plants

By Lindinxiwa Mahlasela

One of the striking exhibitions at Albany museum, Natural Science is Xhosa Plants. It’s a unique exhibition because it lands itself on a very important matter regarding heritage in South Africa; TRANSFORMATION. Yes Xhosa Plants exhibition speaks about transformation.
In this exhibition curator Mqwathi, otherwise known as Mr Cimi, tells us the various uses of certain plants in Xhosa societies. Simultaneously, he reminds amaXhosa and Africans at large that ‘WE ARE BOTANISTS’!! Significantly, the exhibition disputes the colonists’ idea that Africans are people without culture and heritage and therefore shouldn’t be represented in museums thereof.
Isibindi, umavumbuka, and ummemezi are just some of the plants that amaXhosa used (and still use) as cosmetics. Ummemezi – literally means calling aloud or figuratively ‘take a look’ was largely used by young females seeking the attention of young man. It lightens ones skin quickly like the contemporary ‘make ups’. However it is said that it may cause some damage to ones skin especially the risk of skin cancer. Umavumbuka nesibindi on the other hand was used to mitigate the risks that ummemezi could do and maintain the beautiful glowing skin. Determining the extent of the usage of these ‘make up’ products among amaXhosa women isn’t something that I have explored yet. Notwithstanding that I argue that they are still in use. So ladies, next time you go shopping for cosmetics, consider ummemezi because it might work wonders for you!
Unfortunately at some stage in our lives we come across difficult challenges. They become so difficult that one tend to believe in magic powers. Among amaXhosa certain plants are a stimulus for such magic. For instance uLuzi is one such plant. The bark of uLuzi tree is usually prepared by an aunt and would be tied around ones’ neck during initiations. Also, when one has serious challenge uLuzi will be used as magic to overcome such challenge. This includes cases where young women have difficulties falling pregnant, young man not finding jobs, and many other difficulties that people find themselves having to face. Similarly, INtelezi is used to make one likeable, lucky and protected. Some families even put it on rooftops so that they are protected against lightning and witchcraft.
Often I hear people wishing each other ‘good luck’. It’s especially the case when one is about to engage in an important exercise like writing examinations or travelling and many other activities that people deem important and require some intervention for them to achieve. Xhosa Plants shows us that amaXhosa went beyond the mere ‘good luck’ in wishing one another success and blessings.  To them the ‘wish you good luck’ practice is both practical and rooted in belief system. For instance, when young men complete their initiation they carry umnqayi, a stick that is believed to have power to bring blessings to the young man. Intonga yoMnquma is perhaps the most commonly known stick among amaXhosa. When men travel to faraway places they would carry it. When there is thunder and lightning it would be put on the floor to protect the family from being struck by lightning. During family gatherings when rituals are performed men would carry iminquma nemisimbithi which I guess serve the purpose of cleansing their bodies so that communication with the departed cannot be interrupted by bad spirits. Similarly, impepho is burnt when one interprets dreams, during meditation and of course during family ceremonies where rituals are held.
Ukhukho is a traditional mat. It is used for sleeping and as a couch especially by women. Additionally ukhukho is inherent in initiation practices. A bride has to have one. It is called uMahambehlala. Literally uMahambehlala means sitting all over the place. This has negative connotations. How the term was conceived and its true meaning needs to be investigated. Marriage is an important status that brings pride and enhances families’ dignity. It is therefore doubtful that one of the institutions properties would be mocked. Lastly, young men coming from initiation school sit and sleep on ekhukhweni for a considerable period of time.

Xhosa Plants exhibition has to an extent articulated transformation in museums especially in regard to exhibition content and knowledge systems. For centuries ethnographic galleries seem to have been the only exhibitions one could find in museums. This was consistent with racist attitudes that viewed natives as some creatures that should be studied to satisfy curiosities and be preserved before they perish. The current dispensation requires exhibitions that emancipates heritage of the marginalized in order for them to take pride in their knowledge systems rather than calling them ‘superstitions’. 

Celebrating Museum and Africa Month with Albany!

By Linda Dyani and Lindinxiwa Mahlasela

Albany museum’s mobile unit embarked on a road show to celebrate museums and Africa month. Jauka Hall in Port Alfred was the first stop on Tuesday, 26 May 2015. In a matter of minutes the hall was turned into a “museum” displaying artefacts from Invertebrates, history, anthropology, archaeology, fossil collections. Experienced museum officials with expertise in various fields manned the stalls and interacted with approximately 300 learners from Port Alfred primary, Kuyasa and Nomzamo Secondary schools.
Africa day
Facilitator, Lindi Mahlasela asked learners their meaning of Africa Day. He confronted them with some difficult questions that included; how many countries make up the African continent?, Who are the presidents of Mali, Malawi, Kenya, Congo, etc? He asked them about leading musicians and artists in the continent. When answers were not forthcoming he asked them who the president of the United States is. A resounding “Barack Obama” was echoed. By this time a point was driven “knowing about other countries and peoples of the African continent will eliminate prejudices that led to xenophobia and promote togetherness and social cohesion”.
Participant’s views
Ms Nxawe, an English teacher from Nomzamo High School who accompanied learners thought the event was a “worthwhile exercise”. She strongly believes that activities like these go a long way in motivating learners as they broaden their career choices. Additionally, Ms Nxawe promised to take her learners to Albany museum to see, touch and smell collections.
Two grade 11 learners from Kuyasa were surprised to learn that museums are places where highly qualified people could pursue careers and that IT experts, finance administrators, also have a place at. Learning about insects was something that the two girls never thought was a career.
A grade 9 learner from Port Alfred Primary said he wanted to study Paleontology at Rhodes University after finishing grade 12, whilst Simphiwe Mxube, a grade 10 pupil from Kuyasa Combined School wanted to explore the field of Archaeology.

Clearly, the visit had a positive effect on learners and Albany museum wishes them success in their endeavors.

Africa’s Earliest known Coelacanth

By Dr Rob Gess
Africa’s earliest known fossil coelacanth species was described this week in the prestigious Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society by palaeontologists Dr Robert Gess, (who conducted the research whilst a Phd student at the University of the Witwatersrand) and Professor  Michael Coates of the University of Chicago. The 360 million year old specimens were collected by Dr Robert Gess from the famous Late Devonian aged Waterloo Farm locality outside Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. Coelacanths are believed to have arisen during the Devonian Period, however only five species of reconstructable Devonian coelacanths have previously been described, in addition to a number of very fragmentary remains. None of these came from Africa, but rather from North America, Europe, China and Australia. The new species Serenichthys kowiensis gives important additional information on the early evolution of coelacanths. It is the Devonian species that most closely resembles the line leading to modern coelacanths – according to an evolutionary analysis conducted by Gess and Coates.
The fossils come from black shales originally disturbed by road works at Waterloo Farm. These shales are the compacted remains of petrified mud, deposited in the quiet reaches of an estuary not unlike some of those along the Eastern Cape Coast today. Gess has collected more than 30 specimens thus far, and, remarkably, all of these more or less complete coelacanths are juveniles. This suggests that Serenichthys was using a shallow, waterweed filled embayment of the estuary as a nursery, as many fish do today. This earliest known record of a coelacanth nursery foreshadows a much younger counterpart, known from the 300 million year old Mazon Creek beds of Illinois in the United States. This glimpse into the early life history of ancient coelacanths raises further questions about the life history of the modern coelacanth, Latimeria – which is known to bear live young, but whether they, too, are clustered in nurseries remains unknown.
360 million years ago, Africa was part of the southern supercontinent Gondwana, made up of Africa, India, Australia, Antarctica and South America. At that time, the rocks of Waterloo Farm were forming along the shores of the semi-enclosed Agulhas Sea, not far from the South Pole. Gess originally identified coelacanth remains from the locality whilst carrying out excavations at Waterloo Farm in the mid 1990s under the supervision of Dr Norton Hiller, of the Rhodes University Geology Department. These fossils were not, however, well enough preserved to be reconstructed and described. His painstaking excavation of tons of shale salvaged during subsequent roadworks has now shed light on dozens more specimens, a few of which are preserved in exquisite detail.  These were prepared under a microscope and have allowed the species to be reconstructed in minute detail. They prove to be a new genus and species.

By a strange coincidence, the new species was discovered a mere 100km from the mouth of the Chalumna River, off which the type specimen of Latimeria chalumnae (the first discovered modern coelacanth) was caught in 1938. Furthermore, the Geology Department at Rhodes, where Gess was based when he found his first fossil coelacanth, is on the site of the former Chemistry Department where Latimeria was first described. In keeping with the naming of its living relative (after an Eastern Cape river), the species name of the new fossil form, kowiensis, is after the Kowie River which rises among the hills where it was found, and the genus name, Serenichthys, honours Serena Gess, who provided land for the storage of more than 70 tons of black shale rescued from roadworks for ongoing research – in which all the new material was found.