Dr Robyn Pickering

Dating the Undateable

15 March 2018


NSTF-TW Kambule Award for an emerging researcher: post-doc in a period of up to six years after award of a PhD or equivalent
“As an undergraduate student I was taught that it was impossible to date our fossil sites,” Pickering remembers. This fallacy was based on the geological youthfulness of South African caves. At only between two and three million years old, local cave rock could not be dated using the uranium-lead technique.


When a fossil is too old for one technique, and the rock around it too young for another, dating a find can be almost impossible. This conundrum has plagued paleoanthropologists in South Africa for a very long time, but thanks to the work of Dr Robyn Pickering things have changed. Over the past 10 years, the University of Cape Town-based isotope geochemist has successfully adapted uranium-lead dating techniques to provide the first set of direct ages for the caves in which early human fossils were found in South Africa. Her work has changed the way this record is viewed around the world. (Read more about her in the Mail & Guardian article. Mail & Guardian is an NSTF media partner.)