It gives me great pleasure and pride to introduce you to Institute for Human Evolution (IHE).
In January 2004 Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa invited me to become Interim Director of the newly created IHE. I learned that Professor Nongxa, had, during his term of office as Deputy Vice-Chancellor, pulled together the different groups working in the field of palaeoanthropology at Wits. After many years he succeeded in uniting the University's palaeoanthropological activities under the umbrella of the Human Evolutionary Institute of Research (HEIR; before the end of 2004, HEIR was re-named the Institute for Human Evolution).
Very early on, a monthly seminar programme was established, in which members of the IHE, as well as occasional visitors, presented a talk. I facilitated the discussions and for a brief 15 minutes or so, we discussed the IHE, its activities, plans for the future, etc. The intention was to appoint a Director of the IHE as soon as possible. Fundraising became essential but, in the first two years or so, barely enough monies were raised to maintain the existing level of research of the two palaeoanthropology groups (Tobias/Clarke and Berger). The Ford Foundation and PAST were the main funders at this stage, in addition to the DST which generously provided funds for the preparation and maintenance of fossils in the IHE and BPI collections. The Ford Foundation and the Oppenheimer Family Trust then 'came to the party', initially funding the production/compilation of a Business Plan which was drawn up by VC Management Services at the end of 2005. At that stage an endowment had been donated by: 1) the Oppenheimer Family Trust, for an endowed Chair of palaeoanthropology; 2) Tabatznik Family, also for the Chair; 3) Ford Foundation; 4) PAST; and 5) the V-C's discretionary fund. With these funds available, the post of Director/Professor in the IHE was advertised internationally in 2006. Although three applicants were interviewed the position remained unfilled. A year later the post of Director was readvertised and, after interviewing three applicants, the post was offered to Dr Charles Lockwood, a Lecturer in Human Evolution at University College, London and a former PhD student of Professor PV Tobias; he accepted and planned to take up the position in September, 2008. Fate intervened and Dr Lockwood was killed in a motor bike accident in London two months before the starting date. The post was readvertised and three applicants interviewed: Professor Francis Thackeray, Director of the Transv l Museum was appointed. He took up the position of Director on 2nd February 2009 and I take this opportunity of warmly welcoming him. I stepped down from the position of Interim Director at the end of January 2009, after five extremely interesting and challenging years!
A significant addition to the establishment of the IHE took place in late 2007, when Professor Christopher Henshilwood was awarded an NRF Chair in the Origins of Modern Human Behaviour. Professor Henshilwood is a world renowned archaeologist, famous for the contributions he has made to our understanding of the origins of modern human behaviour, mainly resulting from his research in Blombos Cave on the Cape South Coast. Professor Henshilwood's move to the IHE led to the appointment of Dr Marlize Lombard, a Middle Stone Age archaeologist, as Senior Researcher in the IHE, as well as to the appointment of Professor Lyn Wadley as an Honorary Research Professor within the Institute. By broadening the scope of the IHE to include the study of the origins of modern human behaviour (a topic almost as close to my heart as human genetics) there is now a formidable team of Middle Stone Age archaeologists. Charles Lockwood had been instrumental in the appointment of Dr Kristian Carlson, an authority on the locomotor apparatus of primates, who became Senior Researcher in the IHE in January, 2009. Dr Job Kibii has also joined the staff of the IHE - he works with Professor Lee Berger on a new excavation the Cradle of Humankind and also collaborates with Professor Ron Clarke and Dr Kathy Kuman on the fauna from Sterkfontein. Dr Brian Kuhn, also an IHE researcher, works on carnivores and will renew work on the Taung site in association with Francis Thackeray. Dr Kathy Kuman, a lecturer in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies has been released from her School duties during 2009, when she will work full time in the IHE. Such a "release scheme" for Wits staff members was introduced into the IHE by Dr Charles Lockwood, during the period when he was planning his move to the IHE. For many years the work of Professors Lee Berger and Ron Clarke formed the backbone of the Institute. Lee Berger is most famous from his reconstruction of the Taung Child's cause of death (the Bird of Prey Hypothesis) and from his finds on Palau Island, Micronesia, which include the remains of a pygmy-like people. He is currently working on an exciting new excavation in the Cradle. Ron Clarke continues his work at Sterkfontein, where he painstakingly excavates the renowned "Little foot" skeleton, an Australopithecus of nearly 3 million years old. Professor Francis Thackeray has a strong research interest in the statistical definition of a species and morphometric analyses. He continues his fieldwork at the oldest site in the Cradle and at Kromdr i.
The IHE now has a significantly strong financial base. The Business Plan, commissioned in 2005 by the Ford Foundation and the Oppenheimer Family Trust, has served us well. The endowments given by the Oppenheimer Family Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Tabatznik Trust, PAST and, more recently, by the Mellon Foundation and by Mr Tony Trahar have been invaluable. Francis Gerrard has layed an important role in these fund-raising efforts.
When I left the IHE, I was encouraged by the fact that it is not merely a palaeoanthropology institute, concentrating only on fossil bones. There can be no doubt that the search for, and studies of, hominid fossils must continue and, in many ways, their excavation must be even more painstaking; more accurate ages for them will need to be determined; and the reconstructing of the possible ecology will need to be refined. It will only be through the collaborative efforts of palaeoanthropologists, experts in dating techniques, archaeologists and molecular geneticists that the history of the human race will be fully understood.