Topic ID #30056 - posted 10/27/2013 3:08 PM

Swartkrans (South Africa) Paleoanthropology Fieldschool

Travis Pickering

Experience Paleoanthropology in South Africa

    (July 25 – August 25, 2014)

The Swarkrans Cave site ( has provided the:

· Largest sample  (> 126 individuals) of Paranthropus robustus in the world

· First evidence for the co-existence of two different hominin lineages

o    Homo erectus (direct ancestor of modern humans)

o    Paranthropus robustus (extinct “cousin” of the genus Homo)

· First and earliest evidence for controlled use of fire found anywhere  c. 1.0 million years ago

· First and earliest evidence of tool use with non-stone material (i.e. bone tools) c. 2.0 million years ago

This four-week program offers you the opportunity to participate in a paleoanthropology fieldschool at the famous fossil human locality of Swartkrans, South Africa ( Swartkrans, a cave site approximately twenty miles from Johannesburg, is recognized as one of the world's most important archaeological and fossil localities for the study of human evolution, and is part of the “Cradle of Humankind” World Heritage Site ( The site's geological deposits span millions of years and sample several important events in human evolution.

The oldest finds at the site date between 2.0 and 1.0 million years old-a time period during which our immediate ancestor, Homo erectus, shared the landscape with the extinct ape-man species Paranthropus robustus. In addition to fossils of these species, Swartkrans also preserves an abundant archaeological record of their behavior in the form of stone and bone tools, as well as butchered animal bones. Most spectacularly, the site contains evidence of the earliest known use of fire by human ancestors, dated to about 1.0 million years old. Younger deposits at the site sample the Middle Stone Age archaeological traces of early Homo sapiens.

You will learn about these fascinating ancestors through a hands-on course that includes instruction in archaeological survey, site mapping, excavation, recording, artifact and fossil analysis (human and animal), and laboratory techniques. Fieldwork will be supplemented with occasional lectures, workshops and fossil locality tours with internationally recognized paleoanthropologists working at nearby sites.

The program is directed by Dr. Travis Pickering, Professor of Anthropology at UW-Madison. Over his seventeen years of working in South Africa, Professor Pickering has cultivated strong relationships with researchers in the area ensuring that students on this program will see original fossils and artifacts and receive site tours from the primary researchers in the field. The program is very comprehensive and expands beyond the bounds of simply excavating for four weeks at one site, including: visits to other nearby early hominin sites, such as Sterkfontein, Kromdraai, Drimolen and Malapa; visits to view important original fossils at the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, in Pretoria (, and on the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg (; a three-day ecology (lots of elephants and giraffes!) and Iron Age archaeology tour of Mapungubwe National Park (; guest lectures by leading figures in African paleoanthropology, such as Professors Ron Clarke (discoverer of the famous “Little Foot” skeleton) and Francis Thackeray (director of the Institute for Human Evolution); and shopping days at the African Craft Market in Johannesburg (  The fieldschool is also privileged to stay at the n’Gomo Safari Lodge (, where students live in permanent tents with flush toilets and hot showers.  The lodge is at the back of the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve (, where participants will see rhinos, zebra, and lots of other African animals everyday on the way to Swartkrans.  Students will also have the opportunity to ride through the reserve on horseback and to play with baby lions and other big cats. 


To apply or for more information contact:


Erica Haas-Gallo (; 608-261-1020)

Travis Pickering (; 608-262-5818)



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