Robert Broom

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Professor Robert Broom (November 30, 1866, Paisley – April 6, 1951) was a South African doctor and paleontologist. He qualified as a medical practitioner in 1895 and received his DSc in 1905 from the University of Glasgow. In 1893 he married Mary Baird Baillie.

From 1903 to 1910 he was professor of zoology and geology at Victoria College, Stellenbosch, South Africa, and subsequently he became keeper of vertebrate paleontology at the South African Museum, Cape Town.



Broom was first known for his study of mammal-like reptiles. After Raymond Dart's discovery of the Taung Child, an infant australopithecine, Broom's interest in paleoanthropology was heightened. Broom's career seemed over and he was sinking into poverty, when Dart wrote to Jan Smuts about the situation. Smuts exerting pressure on the South African government, managed to obtain a position for Broom, in 1934 with the staff of the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria as an Assistant in Palaeontology.

In the following years, he made a series of spectacular finds, including fragments from six hominids in Sterkfontein, which he named Plesianthropus transvaalensis, popularly called Mrs. Ples, but which was later classified as an adult Australopithecus africanus, as well as more discoveries at sites in Kromdraai and Swartkrans. In 1937, Broom made his most famous discovery of Paranthropus robustus. These discoveries helped support Dart's claims for the Taung species.

The remainder of Broom's career was devoted to the exploration of these sites and the interpretation of the many early hominid remains discovered there. In 1946 he proposed the Australopithecinae subfamily. He continued to write to the very last. Shortly before his death he finished a monograph on the Australopithecines and remarked to his nephew:


Among hundreds of articles contributed by him to scientific journals, the most important include:

  • "Fossil Reptiles of South Africa" in Science in South Africa (1905)
  • "Reptiles of Karroo Formation" in Geology of Cape Colony (1909)
  • "Development and Morphology of the Marsupial Shoulder Girdle" in Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1899)
  • "Comparison of Permian Reptiles of North America with Those of South Africa" in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1910)
  • "Structure of Skull in Cynodont Reptiles" in Proceedings of the Zoölogical Society (1911).

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