Charles Kimberlin Brain

Charles Kimberlin Brain, also known as C. K. 'Bob' Brain (born 7 May 1931, in Southern Rhodesia, now modern Harare, Zimbabwe[1]), is a South African paleontologist who has studied and taught African cave taphonomy for more than fifty years.

Charles Kimberlin Brain
Born (1931-05-07) May 7, 1931 (age 91)
NationalitySouth African
Alma materUniversity of the Witwatersrand
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of the Witwatersrand


From 1965 to 1991, Brain directed the Transvaal Museum, which became one of the most scientifically productive institutions of its kind in Africa during his tenure.[citation needed]

During his years at the Museum, Brain actively pursued his own research, which was A-rated by the Foundation for Research Development (now the National Research Foundation of South Africa) from the inception of its evaluation system in 1984 until his retirement.

Brain planned and scripted the displays in the Museum's "Life’s Genesis I" and "Life's Genesis 2" halls, which have been seen by several million visitors.

Very early in Brain's career, Robert Ardrey wrote of him:

[In 1958] I was spending a night in a South African village with a party of scientists. One in the party was Dr. C. K. Brain, an amazing young man from the Transvaal Museum.

Brain is a scientist's scientist, and I know of none so young on any continent who has acquired from achievements so varied a reputation quite so wide. He is a Rhodesian, from a family related to that of Eugène Marais. He has a long, distinguished face and his mode of expression, unlike my own, is as a rule one of long, distinguished silences. Brain was twenty-seven at the time, and had taken his doctorate in geology.

He had followed this with three fruitful years in anthropology, in which time he had furnished palaeontology with its only comprehensive geological survey of all five australopithecine sites; had developed techniques of ancient dating never thought of before by anyone; and with his uncovering of primitive stone handaxes at Sterkfontein had made a discovery ranked by Dr. Kenneth P. Oakley of the British Museum as one of the anthropological milestones of the century."

— Robert Ardrey, African Genesis, p. 69, 1961.      

Although Brain retired in 1996, he is active as Curator Emeritus at the Transvaal Museum, an Honorary Professor of Zoology at the University of the Witswatersrand, an active Research Associate at the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Palaeo-Anthropology Scientific Trust (PAST). He is an active researcher of fossils of the earliest animals and is co-ordinating a renewed excavation initiative at the Swartkrans Cave. He is a consulting editor for the Annals of the Eastern Cape Museums.[2]

In its 2006 Lifetime Achiever tribute to Brain, the National Research Foundation of South Africa said:

Dr Brain was also personally involved and supervised a 30-year-long excavation of the Swartkrans Cave in the Sterkfontein Valley (now the Cradle of Humankind). This cave was the first to demonstrate the coexistence of robust ape men with early humans and produced more remains of robust ape men (Paranthropus) than any other site in the world.

His objective was to obtain a large and meticulously documented sample of fossils and cultural objects from the complex stratigraphic units in the cave and to do taphonomic interpretations on these, throwing light on how the animals (including the hominids) lived and died. His excavation produced a sample of 240,000 fossils from a very diverse fauna. These emphasise the importance of predation to the evolution of human intelligence and provided evidence for the earliest controlled use of fire by humans nearly one million years ago.

For nearly ten years Dr Brain has been looking for evidence of the oldest known predators among fossils of invertebrates from 700 million year old limestones in Namibia. His finds show how the predatory process started in the animal lineages."

Brain has been an invited participant at over thirty international conferences and symposia worldwide. He and his wife have four children.[citation needed]

A species of legless lizard, Typhlosaurus braini, is named in his honour.[4]


Honours and awardsEdit

  • Four Honorary Doctorates:
1999: University of the Witwatersrand
1999: University of Pretoria
1993: University of Natal
1991: University of Cape Town

Scholarly scientific societiesEdit

In addition to other active memberships, Brain is a founding member of four societies:

  • Palaeontological Society of Southern Africa
  • South African Archaeological Society
  • South African Society for Quaternary Research
  • Zoological Society of Southern Africa
    • 1974–75: President
    • 1969–73: Vice President


  • Nearly two hundred, including several books.


  • "Swartkrans: A Cave’s Chronicle of Early Man." (ed.) 2nd Edition. Transvaal Museum Monograph No. 8, 1–295, 2005.
  • "Fifty years of fun with fossils: some cave taphonomy-related ideas and concepts that emerged between 1953 and 2003." In African Taphonomy: A Tribute to the Career of C.K. "Bob" Brain. Edited by Travis Pickering, Katherine Schick, and Nicholas Toth, Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology (CRAFT Center), Stone Age Institute, Indiana University Bloomington, 2004.
  • Raymond Dart and our African origins. In A Century of Nature: Twenty-One Discoveries that Changed Science and the World, Laura Garwin and Tim Lincoln, editors. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Hardcover: ISBN 0-226-28413-1. Paperback: ISBN 0-226-28415-8.
  • The Hunters or the Hunted?: An Introduction to African Cave Taphonomy. C.K. Brain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Paperback: ISBN 0-226-07090-5, ISBN 978-0-226-07090-2. Press page.

Scientific journalsEdit

(This list is very incomplete.)


  1. ^ a b c d "Charles Brain". Who's Who – Southern Africa. Archived from the original on 18 August 2012. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  2. ^ Rhodes University. "Consulting Editors". Annals of the Eastern Cape Museums. Archived from the original on 9 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Top award for lifetime achiever– google search for "Top award for lifetime achiever" will find html version" (PDF). Newsletter of the National Research Foundation of South Africa No 5, June/July 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 June 2007.
  4. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Brain", p. 37).

External linksEdit