Department of Human Sciences

The Department of Human Sciences has a dynamic team of inter-disciplinary curators who conduct research in archaeology, history, anthropology, rock art, museumology, object biographies and materiality...

Department of Natural Science

The Department of Natural Science is one of two research departments within the museum, housing specimens dating back to 1879...

Exhibition Department

KwaZulu-Natal Museum’s Exhibition Department conceptualises, designs and oversees both the permanent and temporary exhibitions within the Museum...

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In November 2019, researchers in the KZNM Department of Human Sciences organized a visit to uMgungundlovu, the site of Dingane’s capital between 1828 and 1838. The archaeological archive linked to this site resides in the KZNM but is also dispersed across other institutions and Chief Curator of Archaeology in the Department of Human Sciences at KZNM Gavin Whitelaw is in the process of convening and making sense of these materials. 

The visit arose out of a collaboration between the Five Hundred Year Archive, ongoing curatorial extensions of the Digital Bleek & Lloyd (University of Cape Town) and metsemegologolo (Wits), a consortium of projects working together under the African Digital Humanities programme (Wits), to develop innovative digital archives of diverse materials pertinent to the history of the region prior to colonial times. The group comprised also Justine Wintjes (KZNM), Stefania Merlo, Anton Coetzee and John Wright (Wits), Carolyn Hamilton, Hussein Suleman, Thokozani Mhlambi and Michelle House (UCT), Frans Roodt (University of Limpopo) and Steve Kotze (KwaMuhle Museum). 

PICTURED: John Wright and Thokozani Mhlambi walking up towards the isigodloat uMgungundlovuPhoto by Justine Wintjes (2019). 

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In July, 2019, Claire Dean of Dean & Associates visited KZNM and conducted a needs assessment of the collections within both the Natural (DNS) and the Human Sciences (DHS) departments as well as considering the needs of items on exhibition. The recommendations in Dean & Associates’ report, along with the recommendations made by the accounting firm, Grant Thornton, in their Heritage Asset Assessment will be used to guide adjustments to the policies, protocols and practices of collections management at the KZNM. The goal of these assessments is to see where the KZNM can bring its collections management in line with best global practices.

DNS has well over 100,000 items in their collections, including some of the most significant collections of Malacology and Diptera in the world. DHS has some 40,000 objects across Anthropology, Archaeology and History collections. These collections are visited every year by scholars from around the world for their valuable scientific knowledge. The final report will be accepted by museum management by the end of 2019 and submitted to Council. In years to come, Dean and Associates’ recommendations will be implemented.

An example of insect storage in the DNS, all requiring the same environmental conditions, making it possible to consolidate storage space for thousands of individual specimens – a characteristic less common with DHS collections’ storage. Photograph by Claire Dean.

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The biennial SAMA conference was held at the Msunduzi Museum in Pietermaritzburg from 21 to 24 October, 2019. The conference topic this year wasThe Future of Traditions. Five  staff members from the KZNM presented papers. KZN Museum Director, Mr Luthando Maphasa, spoke on the issue of research subsidies in museums. He discussed the lack of adequate funding that potentially threatens the effectiveness of the future of museum-based research, which has led to a massive loss of expertise and deterioration of collections. In his discussion, he pointed to the consequences of this inadequate funding, which leads to a loss of expertise and the inability to comply with stipulations such as GRAP 103. 

Mr Mudzunga Munzhedzi, Collections Manager of the Human Science department spoke about Michael A. Moon’s contribution to the archaeological archive at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. Munzhedzi’s presentation was based on his Master’s research project, which considers the contributions made by amateur archaeologists to the museum’s collections. Munzhedzi stressed that the archaeological usefulness of such amateur collections relates to their ‘co-production’ through dialogue with professional archaeologists over many years. Michael Moon’s efforts provided a poignant case study.

Ms Dimakatso Tlhoaele, Research Technician in the Human Sciences department, spoke on Izinkambaand marriage. Her paper was also based on her Masters research. She discussed a variety of colours used on pots which are symbolic. Such colours include black (mnyama), red (bomvu) and white (mhlophe). In her discussion, Tlhoaele used her ethnographic data to complement the archaeological context of a Late Iron Age site—Mgoduyanuka—in the upper uThukela Basin. Furthermore, Tlhoaele addressed how she explored the relationship between coloured pots and marriage alliances in the Late Iron Age, and this was conducted through a portable XRF method and other analyses.

Dr ThembekaNxele, Curator of Oligochaeta in the Natural Sciences, spoke on how museum-based earthworm research can benefit society. In her presentation, Nxele emphasized how earthworms contribute to agriculture by means of making the soil fertile. She explained how earthworms are the ecosystem engineers and how they promote soil fertility and quality. Her presentation was one of the most popular at the conference and it attracted many interesting questions from the audience.

Dr Igor Muratov, Curator of Mollusca in the Natural Science Department, spoke about Photographing Collections in Museums. He asked five important questions about the process of photographing collections: Which, Why, Which, Who, and How? In his presentation, Muratov argued that for safety, integrity and preservation of items, objects should only be photographed for a particular reasonable purpose. Such reasons should include publicity, inventory and research.  

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South Africa is covered in stunning rock art. Most of this art was made by Khoisan communities and it includes engravings found on the boulders in the interior parts of the country and paintings found in the shelters on the mountains that fringe the interior plateau. The rock paintings in these shelters are incredibly sophisticated; they are small and have complex shading. They are also often superimposed in many layers,made over many years—sometimes centuries.These qualities make it very difficult to record the imageryThe standard practice over the last three decades has been to photograph the images and to make a direct tracing of the panels. Tracing is a laborious affair and requires significant training and experience for proficiency.

New digital techniques allow for images to be enhanced and for some invisible images to be made visible again. Developments in digital photogrammetry have also allowed for the accurate stitching of multiple two-dimensional photos into an accurate three-dimensional model of rock art shelter walls. In the Department of Human Sciences (DHS) at KZNM, two scholars are working on different projects related to digital photogrammetry and rock art. Dr Justine Wintjes is looking at how to reconstruct rock art panels that were destroyed through the removal of sections—some of which are now housed in the KZNM—by digitally integrating removed sections with the material that remains at the site. Angela Ferreira, a volunteer at the museum, is working on how to produce digital tracings from three-dimensional renderings of rock shelters. Both these projects hold the potential to revolutionise the recording of South African rock paintings.

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Opening Times

Monday to Friday - 8:15 to 16:30 
Saturdays - 9:00 to 16:00 
Sundays - 10:00 to 15:00


Adults (over 17 years) : R10.00

Children (4-17 years) : R 2.50 

School Learners on tour : R 1.50 per child

Pensioners & toddlers : FREE