2011 Skinner Award Recipient
John Nyaphuli was born in 1933 on a small Free State farm in the Wepener District in South Africa. He left school after finishing grade seven and moved to Bloemfontein to seek out greater opportunities during the 1950s. After working as a chef for the South African Defence Force at the Tempe Military Base for several years, he was employed as a fossil preparator at the National Museum, Bloemfontein in 1973. John became a specialist fossil preparator in 2009 and now has 38 years experience in field excavation, mechanical and acid fossil preparation. He has trained other technicians at the National Museum, Bloemfontein, the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, the Council for Geoscience in Pretoria and the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. He is now the manager of a new Mentorship Programme at the National Museum, which was established in order to teach the Museum’s trainee fossil preparators funded by the Palaeontological Scientific Trust.
John has also recovered hundreds of fossils, including six holotype specimens (Anomocephalus africanus, Australosyodon nyaphuli, Eodicynodon oelofseni, Langbergia modisei, Patranomodon nyaphulii, Tapinocaninus pamelae) from the South African Karoo Basin. Importantly, he is responsible for finding nearly 60 well-preserved specimens of the previously rare basal dicynodont Eodicynodon, before which only three fragments were known. His efforts in both the field and laboratory have been recognized by numerous researchers and in recognition of his fine contribution to the field he was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the National Museum in 1999 and Honorary Life Membership of the Palaeontological Society of Southern Africa in 2004. Additionally, he has had two species named after him, namely the basal anomodont therapsids Australosyodon nyaphuli and Patranomodon nyaphuli. Due to his excellent fossil-finding abilities, John continues to regularly aid other institutions and members of the paleontological community to find fossils.
Photo courtesy of John Nyaphuli.