South Africa’s uniquely rich and diverse fossil record documents the earliest evidence of life in ancient humans, animal and plant species. Investigations of these past lifeforms help to explain the beginning of earths existence and identify and explain how life, landscapes and climate have changed over time and how living things have adapted to those changes. Palaeontology is the scientific study of the evolution of life on earth through fossil and other records.

Palaeontologists study the fossilised remains of humans, plant, animal, fungi, bacteria and other single-cell organisms. They conduct preliminary research to determine the location and historical context of fossils and survey and excavate fossils within layers of sedimentary rock. They then analyse fossils to determine age and examine relationships between extinct species and present-day living counterparts to understand extinction events and their relation to current phenomena such as lifestyle, environmental and climate change.

Palaeontologists often work in teams with specialised professionals like anthropologists, curators and historians. They often travel to remote areas for relatively long periods of time working through excavation sites. They can also work in laboratories preserving artefacts or perform desk-based research in offices.


Palaeontologists require extensive knowledge of geology and biology and an understanding of heritage legislation and policy. They will additionally benefit from:

  • Excellent research capability
  • Highly methodical fieldwork and laboratory competence
  • Critical and analytical thinking ability
  • Strong attention to specific detail


Conduct field work, excavate and identify the time period and geography of fossils

Analyse field data, laboratory samples and other data

Prepare reports and present research findings

Advise organisations about the potential impacts of fossil discoveries


B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. in Palaeontology at Wits

B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. in Archaeology at UCT and Wits

B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. in Geology at NMU, NWU, RU, SU, UCT, UFH, UFS, UJ, UKZN, UL, UP, UWC and Wits


Research institutions.

Heritage sites and museums.

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