The Bernard Price Institute has a number of important collections of fossils, mainly from South and southern Africa, but there are also some specimens from other parts of the world. The main collections are:
Karoo Vertebrate Collection:
The Karoo Vertebrate Collection contains more than 6000 catalogued specimens, consisting mainly of fossils collected from the eight biological zones ( biozones ) of the Beaufort Group of the Karoo Supergroup, a sequence of sedimentary rocks laid down by large meanering river systems during the period from the Late Palaeozoic to the Early Mesozoic eras (Mid-Permian [about 256 myr ago] to Mid Triassic [about 215 myr ago]).
There are over 30 000 catalogued specimens of fossil plants and insects in the Institute’s Fossil Herbarium, mostly from southern Africa. They include Devonian fossils from the Bokkeveld and Witteberg groups (Cape Supergroup: Devonian to mid-Permian in age) up to Lower and Middle Cretaceous cycadophytes, ferns, conifers and angiosperms. Most of the plants come from the Permian and Triassic deposits of South Africa, with a wide variety of Glossopteris leaves and fruiting structures, ferns, sphenophytes, gingkophytes and the Dicroidium flora.
This fairly new collection has over 700 specimens of fossil wood from southern Africa, ranging in age from Lower Permian to Pleistocene. Most of the specimens have been sectioned to make petrographic slides and research is still in progress, identifying and describing the material. One aim of our current research is to establish a database of the Karoo woods.
This huge collection has resulted mainly from work on the excavated fossil-bearing cavern infills of the Makapansgat Limeworks in the Potgietersrus District of the Northern Province (in what used to be called the Northern Transvaal ). These deposits represent sediments that progressively fill caverns which develop in dolomitic or calcareous rocks as a result of the action of ground water. The water dissolves limestone and dolomite below the water table to leave a patchwork of voids in the country rock. Once these voids acquire openings to the surface through erosion, they become caves available for use by living organisms as refuges or lairs, or they become traps into which living animals fall, some dying there because they cannot escape. Whichever way they get into the caves, their carcasses become excellent candidates for fossilisation.
The various strata of the Karoo preserve an impressive variety of trace fossils - traces of the actions of living animals going about their normal activities of life. These traces include feeding trails left in muddy bottom sediments by aquatic invertebrates, swimming traces drawn by the fin spines of fish swimming close to the bottom in quiet waters, and trackways of bottom-dwelling crustaceans and insects as they scuttled over the surface muds. This is not a large collection, and at present is somewhat static as no new research in this direction is currently being carried out in the Institute.
Bone Histological Slide Collection:
This small but growing collection contains microscopic thin-sections of the bones of a variety of vertebrates mainly from the Karoo, including therapsids and dinosaurs. Most of the slides result from specific individual research projects, so the collection is not yet comprehensive or fully representative of the entire fauna of the Karoo.
Palynological Slides Collection:
As each palynological project is completed, the microscope slides which were prepared for that particular study are catalogued and filed. The microscopic size of pollen (average around 25 microns) means that each slide holds many pollen grains. Individual pollen grains, if significant, are grid-referenced in the report which completes each study, so that they can be easily relocated as and when required.
Replicas of Fossils for Sale:
The Institute has a large number of fossil casts for sale at very reasonable prices. These include therapsid ( mammal-like reptile ) skulls and postcranials, dinosaur skulls and postcranials, and a variety of fossils from the Makapansgat Plio-Pleistocene deposits, amongst others. Please enquire about prices and other details by emailing the Secretary at the BPI.
If you would like to visit us and want to work on fossils in our Collections, please complete this electronic submittable form.