Overview | Academics | Cost | Location | Life Abroad | Student Voices
Experience Paleoanthropology in South Africa
The Swarkrans Cave site has provided the:
Largest sample (> 126 individuals) of Paranthropus robustus in the world
First evidence for the co-existence of two different hominid lineages
First and earliest evidence for controlled use of fire found anywhere c. 1 million years ago
First and earliest evidence of tool use with non-stone material (i.e. bone tools) c. 1.7 million years ago
This four-week program offers you the opportunity to participate in a paleoanthropology fieldschool at the famous fossil human locality of Swartkrans, South Africa. Swartkrans, a cave site approximately twenty miles from Johannesburg, is recognized as one of the world's most important archaeological and fossil localities for the study of human evolution. The site's geological deposits span millions of years and sample several important events in human evolution.
The oldest finds at the site date between 1.8 and 1.0 million years old-a time period during which our immediate ancestor, Homo erectus, shared the landscape with the extinct ape-man species Australopithecus robustus. In addition to fossils of these species, Swartkrans also preserves an abundant archaeological record of their behavior in the form of stone and bone tools, as well as butchered animal bones. Most spectacularly, the site contains evidence of the earliest known use of fire by human ancestors, dated to about 1.0 million years old.
You will learn about these fascinating ancestors through a hands-on course that includes instruction in archaeological survey, site mapping, excavation, recording, artifact and fossil analysis (human and animal), and laboratory techniques. Fieldwork will be supplemented with occasional lectures, workshops and fossil locality tours with internationally recognized paleoanthropologists working at nearby sites.
The program is directed by Dr. Travis Pickering, Professor of Anthropology at UW-Madison. Over his fifteen years of working in South Africa, Professor Pickering has cultivated strong relationships with researchers in the area ensuring that students on this program will see original fossils and artifacts and receive site tours from the primary researchers in the field. The program is very comprehensive and expands beyond the bounds of simply excavating for four weeks at one site.
Swartkrans, a cave site approximately 20 miles from Johannesburg, the largest and most populous city in South Africa, is recognized as one of the world's most important archaeological and fossil localities for the study of human evolution. Swartkrans is an Early Pleistocene hominid site that has yielded abundant fossils of Australopithecus robustus and Homo erectus, Early Stone Age lithic and bone artifacts and burned bones that may be the earliest traces of humanly controlled fire. The current research at the site is focused on understanding the role of hominids in the complex ecology of Swartkrans c . 1.8 million years ago.
Getting to Your Program
You will arrange their own transportation to South Africa, but are given guidelines for arrival dates and times. The Resident Director will pick students up at the airport upon arrival.
A visa is not required for U.S. citizens for this program. U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for at least six months beyond the end of the program.
IAP expects you to be an active participant in preparing yourself for your study abroad experience. As a participant on an IAP program, you will receive a pre-departure orientation, either in-person or online.
The type and format of this orientation will vary by program and will be provided to you upon acceptance to the program.
For the duration of the fieldschool, you will live in a field camp on a nature reserve (with lots of cool animals, like rhinos, hippos, warthogs and antelopes!) near Swartkrans, a 1.8 million year old early hominin site, which has yielded the abundant fossils of the species Homo erectus
and Paranthropus robustus
, as well as thousands of stone tools and the fossils of other animals.
The tented camp includes indoor plumbing, heaters, and hot water. Meals will be provided by a caterer on-site, you will pack your own lunches daily. The camp contains a central lodge for lectures and communal meals. There is a pay phone at the camp, and the Resident Director will have a telephone for emergency purposes at all times. Krugersdorp, a town about five miles from the camp, has stores for groceries, personal items, and a clinic.
Excursions and Activities
You will excavate at Swartkrans and analyze those archaeological and paleontological materials that they recover. There are several field trips to other nearby early hominin sites, like Sterkfontein, Kromdraai and Malapa. You will also visit the fossil collections of two major South African museums, where you will be given exclusive tours of the off-public collections, which include some of the most important hominin fossils in the world. The fieldschool will also include a modern ecology component, which will involve a trip to a game park and experimental archaeology projects.
You will be enrolled in the UW System required health insurance through Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI) and the cost of the insurance coverage is included in program fees.
The program is directed by Dr. Travis Pickering, Associate Professor of Anthropology at UW-Madison. Prof Pickering is Director of the Swartkrans Paleoanthropological Research Project (South Africa).
Use the links below to find out more information on academics, daily life and student impressions for this program.Swartkrans Handbook 2013
(Summer - 2012-13)
Returned Student Network
to see testimonials from students abroad or to contact a returned student.