Southern African palaeontology is currently mourning the loss of one of its greats. We are dedicating this #FossilFriday to Charles K. 'Bob' Brain.
CK (Bob) Brain passed away peacefully on June 6th at his home in Irene. He was a founder member of the PSSA, Honorary Life Member and also the first President of the Society.
He was born on 7 May 1931 in what was then Salisbury, Rhodesia, and matriculated at Pretoria Boy’s High School in 1947. He then proceeded to the University of Cape Town where he obtained his BSc degree in Zoology and Geology, and later a PhD as well. He had a long and distinguished career at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria starting in the Palaeontology Department during 1954. Here he undertook the first systematic investigation into the stratigraphy of the South African fossil hominid-bearing cave deposits, establishing that each deposit was of a different age and reflected a different climatic regime. In line with his multi-facetted approach to science Dr Brain became Curator in the Department of Lower Vertebrates in 1957 and published papers on frogs, snakes and lizards.
From 1961-1964 Bob Brain was Keeper of Zoology and Deputy Director of the Queen Victoria Museum in Harare. He returned to the Transvaal Museum in 1965 as Curator of the Palaeontology Department and three years later was appointed Director. He held this position for twenty-three years until his retirement in 1991.
With a remarkable multidisciplinary approach Bob undertook groundbreaking research at the Swartkrans fossil hominid cave, the results of which have received international acclaim. A dramatic finding was the oldest evidence for the controlled use of fire by hominids dating to about one million years ago. He was further able to identify cycles of deposition within the Quarternary period and linked habitat changes to global variability in temperature which he correlated with hominid evolutionary events in Africa. By observation of the feeding behaviour of living carnivores he demonstrated that fossil bone accumulations in many of the cave deposits were the result of carnivore activity. These innovative ideas led to the new discipline of African cave taphonomy in which Bob is an international leader. For the results of this multi-faceted research, the University of the Witwatersrand awarded Bob Brain a DSc. in 1981.
Bob Brain had an extraordinarily diverse, and productive research career in which he was loyally supported by his wife Laura, and their four children, Tim, Mel, And and Ginni. His scientific pursuits have brought great honour to this country and he received many awards including honorary DSc degrees from the Universities of Cape Town, Natal, Pretoria, and Witwatersrand; Gold medal of the Zoological Society; Senior Captain Scott Memorial Medal of the South African Biological Society; Achievement Award of the Claude Harris Leon Foundation; John FW Hershel Medal of the Royal Society of South Africa; One of the four outstanding young South Africans; and the South African Medal of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science.