Historically significant Hofmeyr skull replica returns to the Karoo

The skull was named as part of Time Magazine's top 10 paleoanthropological discoveries of 2007.

A replica of a historically significant skul, more than three millennia old, which was discovered in the Hofmeyr district in 1952 has finally ‘returned home’ to be displayed near its place of origin.

The skull was discovered by a former farmer from Hofmeyr, Chris Hattingh, when he was preparing the riverbed of the Vlekpoort River on his farm Klipdrif, about 20km from Hofmeyr, to construct a weir.

When Hattingh stumbled upon the skull, an immediate halt was called to all activities, and he contacted the East London Museum to retrieve the artefact.

Carbon dating was conducted on the mud matrix within the skull, using optically stimulated luminescence dating (OSL), and revealed an age of 36 000 years.

This scientific revelation has significantly contributed to the understanding of Homo Sapiens’ evolutionary journey, with only two other casts known to exist worldwide – one housed in the Smithsonian Museum in the USA and the other at the East London Museum in South Africa.

The discovery reignited interest in the Eastern Cape’s rich fossil heritage, particularly within the Hofmeyr area. A comprehensive volume of scientific research, edited by Prof Fred Grine in 2023, has been published, shedding further light on the significance of the skull.

Recently, the curator of the East London Museum, Kevin Cole, presented a cast of the skull to David Lord, proprietor of The Farmhouse in Hofmeyr, who will be overseeing its custody in its hometown.

The generous donation, facilitated by Prof Fred Grine of Stony Brook University in New York, marks a significant moment for the community.

Lord expressed his enthusiasm and said the Hofmeyr skull cast will be on permanent display at The Farmhouse.

He emphasised the skull’s global importance, noting its inclusion in Time Magazine’s top 10 paleoanthropological discoveries of 2007. Remarkably, this skull stands as only the second of its age found in Africa, the other being at Nazlet Khater in Egypt.

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