News: Palaeoscientist Phillip Tobias dies

2012-06-08



PROF Phillip Tobias, the grandfather of South African palaeosciences, died in Johannesburg on Thursday at the age of 86. The news was confirmed by Prof Bruce Rubidge, director of the Bernard Price Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).
His family said he died after a long illness.
Professor emeritus at Wits, Tobias was best known for his work with hominid fossils and was considered an international authority on human evolution.

He was an "iconic figure at Wits University, in South Africa and internationally in the field of palaeosciences", Prof Rubidge said.

The Durban-born palaeoanthropologist "made a huge contribution in many spheres, especially in the description of Homo habilis", a possible human ancestor often referred to as the Handy Man.

He was also responsible for the reopening and continued excavation of the Sterkfontein site in the Cradle of Humankind, Prof Rubidge said.
Prof Tobias had instigated the excavation in 1966. According to the Cradle of Humankind website, it is the longest continuously active palaeoanthropological dig in the world, and has produced more than 1000 hominid remains — about 30% of discovered fossils.

The news of his death was met with an outpouring of emotion of Twitter. "RIP Prof Phillip Tobias, scientist, teacher, explorer of the origins of our species. He was a treasure of the human kind," tweeted author and journalist Gus Silber.

Born on October 14 1925, Prof Tobias began his tertiary education as a medical student at Wits and became a lecturer in the department of anatomy in 1951. He obtained doctorates in medicine, genetics and palaeoanthropology.


Prof Tobias also continued his studies at Cambridge University, which later awarded him an honorary doctorate. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize three times, won numerous awards — including the Charles R Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, in 1997 — and was an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa.


It added: "He will be sorely missed at Wits, but his passing will leave a deep wound in the country and the scientific community around the world."

Information source: The Business Day

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