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The Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) was established through the amalgamation of the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research and the Institute for Human Evolution.

It is the largest palaeontological/ palaeoanthropological research entity in Africa and one of the largest of its kind in the world. 

  • Host of the NRF Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences
  • More than 80 research publications are produced annually
  • Wide network of research collaborations with palaeoscientists from the entire globe.
  • Active participation of researchers on editorial boards of international palaeoscience journals.
  • Employs seven palaeontologists in tenured positions, all of whom have NRF ratings
  • Strong links with palaeotourism projects including the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre.
  • Foremost palaeontological training centre in Africa. Palaeontology students are enrolled in the Science Faculty, and the ESI offers a BSc Honours course in Palaeontology, and offers MSc and PhD degrees by research.
  • In-house research publication, Palaeontologia africana, which publishes articles relating to African palaeontology
  • Dedication to fieldwork, and a commitment to involving Honours, MSc and PhD students in independent field projects
  • Strong record of success in placing students in research positions both in Academia and the open market
  • A vibrant academic environment with much social interaction amongst staff and postgraduate students
  • World Class research facilities
    • Largest fossil collection in South Africa - extensive collections of fossil hominins and associated faunas from the Cradle of Humankind; Palaeozoic and Mesozoic vertebrates from the Karoo Supergroup; and the largest palaeobotany herbarium in the southern hemisphere.
    • Micro-CT scanner, 3D printer, and virtual image processing laboratory.
    • Well-equipped fossil preparation and casting facilities.
    • Well-equipped archaeology and microscope laboratory
    • On campus access to SEM, chemical and mechanical processing laboratories

Director: Professor Marion Bamford
Contact Details: Tel: +27-(0)11-7176690

Scope of Postgraduate Activities in the Evolutionary Studies Institute
The School presently has approximately 30 MSc and PhD students working on a very broad range of research topics such as vertebrate and plant taxonomy (including hominins, therapsids and dinosaurs); taphonomy; stratigraphy and basin analysis; palaeoenviromental interpretation; biodiversity change. In addition, there are strong links with Early and Middle Stone Age archaeology, and students presently study people’s use of animals, plants, stone tools, pigment and fire.

Individual Research Areas

Karoo Palaeontology

Professor Bruce Rubidge – Basal therapsid taxonomy and palaeobiology; stratigraphy and basin analysis.
Dr Fernando Abdala – Taxonomy and palaeobiology of derived therapsids, parareptiles.
Dr Jonah Choiniere - Taxonomy and palaeobiology of dinosaurs and basal archosaurs.


Professor Francis Thackeray – Hominin cranial morphology, taxonomy and climate analysis.
Professor Lee Berger – Plio-Pleistocene exploration; hominin osteology and taxonomy
Dr Bernhard Zipfel – Homininin postcranial studies particularly origins of bipedalism.
Dr Job Kibii – Hominin postcranial studies
Dr Kristian Carlson – Palaeobiology and functional morphology of extinct and extant primates; specialist in computer-assisted palaeontology.
Dr Lucinda Backwell – Experimental taphonomy and evolution of bone tool technology.


Dr Brian Kuhn – Comparative anatomy, taxonomy and palaeoecology of Plio-Pliestocene faunal assemblages.


Professor Marion Bamford – Fossil woods, leaves, seeds, pollen and phytoliths and palaeoclimate reconstructions


Professor Kathy Kuman – Early Stone Age archaeology
Professor Christopher Henshilwood – Origins of H. sapiens behaviour, excavations at Blombos Cave and Klipdrift Shelter , Late Pleistocene environmental studies
Professor Lyn Wadley – excavations at Sibudu Cave, cognitive and experimental archaeology, environmental studies
Dr Sarah Wurz – excavations at Klasies River, heritage management, lithic analyses of Middle Stone Age assemblages