These collections include fossil and sub-fossil vertebrate material, the earliest of which in our collections is 7 million years old. Five million years ago at Langebaanweg there were many genera and species different to our modern ones; some, like Ceratotherium (a white rhino) were ancestral to our modern species; but many, like Agriotherium (a large bear) became extinct; bears no longer occur south of the Sahara and ancestors of boselaphines (a kind of antelope) now occur only in Asia. Elsewhere, from about 5 million years ago we see the beginnings of the development of early hominid and human ancestors and; the establishment, essentially modern faunas took place. Some assemblages are also directly or indirectly associated with landscapes on which archaeological material also occurs. The collections provide palaeoenvironmental and palaeoecological contexts for faunal biodiversity and the development of human behaviour. They also contribute observations for developing long-term palaeoenvironmental frameworks which are used in assessing modern issues such as global warming.
Quaternary Faunal Collections
- Skurwerug (open, inland) (Plio-Pleistocene).
- Elandsfontein (open, inland) (Early to Late Pleistocene).
- Duinefontein (open, inland) (Middle Pleistocene).
- Springfontein (open, inland) (Middle Pleistocene).
- Sea Harvest (open, coastal) (Middle/Late Pleistocene).
- Hoedjiespunt (open, coastal) (Middle/Late Pleistocene).
- Ysterfontein (open, coastal) (Middle/Late Pleistocene).
- Swartklip (open, inland) (Middle/Late Pleistocene).
- Spreeuwalle (open, inland) (Middle/Late Pleistocene).
For the most part these collections include fossil and sub-fossil terrestrial, marine and freshwater vertebrates and invertebrates from the last million years. Hipparion (a three-toed horse) was replaced 2 million years ago by single-toed Equus (the genus to which zebras belong). This period also covers much of the development of our early human ancestors. The collections provide environmental and ecological contexts for faunal evolution and biodiversity as well as the development of human behaviour. These observations also contribute to our knowledge of long-term environmental change and understanding of modern issues such as global warming.
Some collections from this period are directly or indirectly associated with archaeological material. They add to our knowledge of early hominid populations, which were small and sparsely distributed, leaving only ephemeral remains in the ancient landscape (see Social History Collections)
The material is mostly mammalian, but includes birds and reptiles. Although essentially modern faunas are represented a number of ancestral and now extinct species were still present. Some, like the long-horned buffalo Pelorovis antiquus, giant ‘hartebeest’ Megalotragus priscus and Cape zebra Equus capensis, become extinct as recently as 12 000 years ago.
There are some 20,000 specimens from Elandsfontein. The main assemblage dates to between 700,000 and 400,000 years ago, although earlier and more recent elements occur.
Earlier elements, which are rare, include Theropithecus, Megantereon gracile, Sivatherium maurusium, Kolpochoerus paiceae and Metridiochoerus andrewsi.
An early Homo sapiens was found at Elandsfontein. Early, Middle and Later Stone Age artefacts also occur. The excavated Late Acheulian ‘Cutting 10’ artefact and bone assemblage is curated in Pre-Colonial Archaeology.
Upper Pleistocene Collections
Assemblages from Swartklip, Sea Harvest, Hoedjiespunt and Ysterfontein were accumulated during the Last Glacial period by hyaenas.
This collection, assembled for modern ecological research and comparison with palaeontological and archaeological assemblages, includes remains of prey of leopard, hyaena, jackal, viverrids, and large and small raptors. Samples of barn owl pellets from a range of habitats comprise a significant element of the collection. The collection also includes comparative assemblages of marine molluscs from modern contexts.
Tertiary Fossil Collections
Fossil Cetacean Collection
Miocene and Pliocene Fossil Collection
These collections comprise over half a million specimens representing some 300 marine and terrestrial vertebrate species.
The largest collection by far is from early Pliocene deposits at a phosphate mine at Langebaanweg, which includes many type specimens. Large mammal species from Langebaanweg include an ancient gomphothere Anancus sp., an extinct type of elephant which had tusks in its upper and lower jaws, an ancient mammoth Mammuthus subplanifrons, a short-necked giraffe Sivatherium hendeyi., an ancestral white rhino Ceratotherium praecox, two sabretooth cat genera Machairodus sp. and Homotherium sp., false sabre-tooth cat Dinofelis sp. and a large bear Agriotherium africanum. The giant pig Nyanzochoerus sp. is also well represented. There are several hyaena species, including Percrocuta australis, Hyaena abronia and Hyaenictis preforfex, and a wide range of other carnivores, including phocid seals, which are related to crab-eater seals. Three-toed horses Hipparion sp. are present. Antelope remains are common.
Rodents, insectivores, reptiles and amphibians are common. The marine and terrestrial bird assemblage is extremely diverse. Fish include sharks and rays. Molluscs are also present.
Miocene Whale Collection
This is an important collection of Miocene ziphid whale (beaked and bottle-nosed whales) rostra, dredged from the continental shelf by commercial trawlers.