BERNARD PRICE PALAEONTOLOGY MUSEUM
The Bernard Price Institute (BPI) maintains a small museum of palaeontology in the Van Riet Lowe Building on the East Campus of the University of the Witwatersrand, depicting fossils from the main areas of palaeontological research in which the Institute specialises.
On 8 August 1998, the museum was formally named the 'James Kitching Gallery' in honour of the half-century of dedicated and distinguished service to the University and to the science of Palaeontology by James W. Kitching.
James Kitching replying at the dedication ceremony, when the Institute's museum was named in his honour (8 August 1998)
Special features of the Museum include a 'live' fossil preparation laboratory, where visitors can watch a technician preparing a fossil from the collections. The museum also features several life-size animated reconstructions of fossils, starring 'Fang' and 'Fred'.
Fang is a robotic reconstruction of the North African Cretaceous 'mini-tyrannosaur', Afrovenator abakensis; and Fred is a life-size reconstruction of a primitive tapinocephalid dinocephalian (early proto-mammal or 'mammal-like reptile'), from the basal Karoo, Tapinocaninus pamelae, discovered, named and described by the Institute's Director, Professor Bruce Rubidge. We will return to these two reconstructions in more detail below.
Other notable specimens on display in the museum include the skull of one of the earliest known mammals from the Early Jurassic Elliot Formation of the north-eastern Free State Province, Megazostrodon; a growth series of the skulls of the common Early Triassic herbivorous dicynodont of the Middle Beaufort Group, Lystrosaurus; the huge skull of another dicynodont, Platycyclops, from the Late Permian Lower Beaufort Group; a magnificent skull and partial skeleton of the Early Jurassic prosauropod dinosaur, Massospondylus, from the Middle to Upper Elliot Formation; Australochelys, the earliest tortoise (turtle) from Africa, found in the early Jurassic Elliot Formation; and Proterosuchus, a distant ancestor of the dinosaurs, from the Middle Triassic Lystrosaurus Zone.
Also to be seen in the museum are examples of the large variety of exquisite fossils plants from the Karoo deposits in South Africa, and a selection of Plio-Pleistocene fossils from the Makapansgat cave deposits of Northern Province.
Meet Fang and Fred!
Fang and Fred are the nicknames of the BPI's two robotic prehistoric animals, constructed early in 1997 as an experiment in the creation of life-sized reconstructions of fossils and also in educational methods.
'Fred' is a reconstruction of a 3-metre long Tapinocaninus pamelae, a 260 million-year-old dinocephalian 'mammal-like reptile' (therapsid) from South Africa; 'Fang' is a reconstruction of a 7-metre long Afrovenator abakensis, a 130 million-year-old African allosaurid dinosaur discovered in the Sahara Desert.
Marvin Carstens with his creation, 'Fang' (Afrovenator)
Marvin with 'Fred' (Tapinocaninus pamelae)
These two were chosen as the first attempts by the BPI in lifesize robotic reconstructions for the following reasons:
FRED is based on a recent important fossil discovery from South Africa, and is unique for a number of reasons: it is the most complete specimen of its kind known; it represents a new genus; and it is the oldest known land-living reptile from the southern hemisphere. It belongs to the group known as the therapsids, or 'mammal-like reptiles', which are important because they were ancestral to the mammals. Fred belongs to the therapsid group Dinocephalia - a name which means 'terrible heads'. They date from the earliest time of therapsid evolution. The almost complete skeleton on which the reconstruction was based was found in the Karoo by the Director of the BPI, Professor Bruce Rubidge, lying alongside a second skeleton.
FANG is based on an African 'killer dinosaur' unearthed in the Sahara in 1993 by a team of American palaeontologists from the University of Chicago. This type was selected because it is a classic 'toothy dinosaur' that looks a lot like its relative, Tyrannosaurus rex - in other words, everybody's idea of a predatory dinosaur - and it presented an opportunity to drive home the point that North America was not the only home of dinosaurs like this. Fang represents a new species of carnivorous dinosaur that turns out to be a distant and older relative of the infamous T. rex, but a creature perhaps even more deadly because its smaller size and lesser mass meant that it could probably move with far greater speed.
Follow Yale road south towards Jorrisen. The Bernard Price Building is next to the Van Riet Lowe Building.
Tel: +27 (0)11 717 6000
Tel: +27 (0)11 717 6003