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Founded in 1825 and situated in the historic Company’s Gardens, the Iziko South African Museum houses more than one-and-a-half million specimens of scientific importance, and has seen visitors from across the globe – all attracted by the vast historical collection the museum has to offer, which ranges from fossils to ancient insects and historical tools.

The Iziko South African Museum

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The South African Museum, founded in 1825 and situated in the historic Company’s Gardens, has seen millions of visitors, attracted by the vast historical collection the museum has to offer, ranging from fossils to ancient insects and historical tools. A visit to this museum is not only culturally enriching, but the impressive natural collection will also ignite a spark of interest in learning more about the creatures with which we share our planet.

The South African Museum houses more than one-and-a-half million specimens of scientific importance. The collections now range from fossils, which are almost 700-million years old to insects and fish caught last week. There are also stone tools made by people 120 000 years ago, traditional clothes from the last century, and T-shirts printed yesterday.

The South African Museum was founded in 1825. In 1897 the Museum moved to its present building in the historic Company’s Garden. Since then millions of visitors have wandered its halls and corridors to be stimulated and inspired by its collections and exhibitions. They have left the Museum with a better understanding of the earth and its biological and cultural diversity, past and present.

Did you know?

For every object on exhibition at the South Museum, there are thousands more carefully stored away. The Museum houses more than one and a half million specimens of scientific importance.

For nearly 200 years scientists at the Museum have been adding to these collections and studying them.

Why collect?

Only machine-made objects and clones can be exactly the same. Each natural object is slightly different from all the others. We need many examples of each type or species of animal to find out how they vary so that we can be sure we have identified them correctly.

We must collect different animals from one place to find out how many there are. We must also collect many examples of each kind to find out which ones are most common. This helps us understand how all animals and plants contribute to making our environment work.

Why keep collections?

Without museum collections we would have no permanent record of extinct animals like dinosaurs. Neither would we have examples of artefacts made by our ancestors two million years ago or cultural objects used by people over the centuries.

Today’s collections will show our grand-children what our world was like.

If more species become extinct, examples already safely stored in a museum will be the only direct evidence that they ever existed.

What do museum scientists do?

All scientists ask questions, lots of them. Museum scientists are no different. They just ask slightly different ones.

The single, most important, question is ‘What is it?’. Museum scientists work to answer this question. In some cases, they can decide that new examples or specimens are the same as others they have already identified. In other cases, the new specimens will be different from anything known so far. Taxonomists describe the new specimen and decide how it relates to other known species.


 Only afterwards can we hope to answer other questions like ‘How many different species live in this area?’ and ‘Are there more of some species than others?’ Biologists who study biological diversity, or biodiversity as it is usually called today, work to answer these questions. The answer helps us to understand today’s world and how the past differed from the present.

Then ‘Where does this species live?’ You need to know this before you can answer ‘Can you predict where you will find this animal?’ Biogeographers map where different animal species are found and match this with the plants that occur in the same regions.

We also ask ‘What is the relationship between animals, including humans, and their environment?’ and ‘How do they react to the other animals with which they live?’ Ecologists try to answer these questions, which are very difficult because many different aspects are involved.

Or ‘How have humans and other animals evolved?’ The fossilized bones of long-dead animals help palaeontologists to discover how modern animals evolved to be as they are.

And ‘How did our ancestors live?’ Archaeologists and ethnographers study artefacts, which are all the things made or used by people, to work out how people lived in the past.

What does this mean to you?

Without the work of museum scientists your questions about the world around you would not be answered. You would not know whether the rock you picked up is really an ancient stone tool or fossil, or why people say elephants are related to dassies.

If we are to keep our world intact, we must understand how it works. Museum scientists are helping to make sure we know enough to be able to measure the effects of our actions so as not to damage our environment.

Every species of plant and animal has a role to play in keeping our environment intact. New extinctions will indicate that all is not well. Every species that dies upsets the balance that we need for our survival. Museum scientists are playing a major role in identifying species so we can keep check on them.

Promising new sources of food are discovered. Museum marine scientists identify fish and other sea creatures that we may be able to harvest for food in the future.

They study them so that we will know how to sustain stocks and not take too many animals.

Insects are everywhere. By learning more about them, museum entomologists help in the fight to stop them from ruining our fruits and vegetables, and infecting us with illnesses like malaria.

You can be sure that every new display in the Museum is accurate and up to date.

Museum scientists form part of the team that puts on displays, in order to make sure that you have the best and latest information.

Your child’s school can attend classes at the Museum. The education officers supplement school courses and offer a hands-on approach because the scientists share their special knowledge with them.

Take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Museum’s storerooms and laboratories. Scientists often lead guided tours that show you what happens behind-the-scenes. This is an ideal way to find out more about how a museum works and to see some of the thousands of objects that are not on display.

What other services do museum scientists provide?

Museum scientists are eager to tell you all about their work, so they are happy to give talks to schools, clubs and any other group that is interested. Just phone to make an arrangement.

You can ask them to identify puzzling objects. Either phone or leave your specimen at the Museum to be looked at. Be sure not to collect objects that may be rare or protected by the law. Rather report what you saw and take a photograph if you can.

Some museum taxonomists provide professional identifications for commercial enterprises.

Museum scientists can be called upon to act as expert witnesses in legal cases.

Museum scientists undertake environmental impact assessments, which help protect our heritage.

The focus of the Friends is to support and assist in the promotion of Iziko South African Museum and the work it does. At the same time Friends members have interesting activities and generate interaction between the diverse communities in our society.

Friends of the South African Museum:

The Friends of the South African Museum is an organisation open to people of all ages who are interested in learning and exploring the natural and social history of our country.

With these objectives in mind the Friends arrange monthly lectures with varied and interesting speakers; day outings to places of interest in and around Cape Town and field trips in the company of scientists – palaeontologists, geologists, archaeologists, ornithologists, entomologists, astronomers and historians ranging from two to five days.

Join a few good Friends

As a result of the pandemic, The Friends have not been able to offer outings for most of the year and lectures remain online. We have therefore not increased the membership subscription for 2022. We appreciate the support from members who have participated in these online lectures and in such a way remained in touch.

Membership Benefits

Free entry into the South African Museum at any time
Free entrance to the monthly lectures
Preferential rates on all outings and field trips
A regular newsletter, electronic or print, to keep members up to date on activities and lectures.

Membership Categories 2022

CATEGORYEMAIL ONLY 
Seniors & StudentsR 220.00 
IndividualsR 330.00 
Family  (2 adults + 2 children under 18 years)R 500.00 

When making use of electronic banking, please use the reference: Subs and your name. It is important that you return the completed renewal form along with your proof of payment so that the database can be kept up to date. Banking details are printed on the renewal form. Please do not deposit cash into the Friends bank account as this will result in charges being levied to the account. If you are not in possession of a permanent membership card do let me know as this is essential for gaining free access to the museum and to the Friends monthly lectures once these resume.

BANKING DETAILS
ABSA Heerengracht 
Account No: 404 033 1827 
Branch Code:  632 005
Account Name:  Friends of the South African Museum
Reference: Subs + your name
When making your payment by any method other than an EFT the Friends will be charged a fee. To cover this fee please add R20 to your deposit. Only EFT transfers do not incur bank charges.
Please e-mail together with proof of your payment: samfriends@iziko.org.za

Status:
Open
Hours:

Open between 09h00 and 17h00
Monday to Sunday
Closed on Christmas Day and Workers’ Day

Fees:

Adults: R30.00
Children aged 6 to 18: R15.00
Children aged 5 and under: Free
South African pensioners and students (with valid cards): R15.00 / Free entry on Fridays
School groups: Booked: R5.00; Unbooked: R8.00
Free entry on commemorative days

Contact Details:

Tel: +27 (0)21 481 3800

Location: 25 Queen Victoria Street, Gardens, Cape Town

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