Keneiloe Molopyane
Author: Mathabela Tsikoane
2023

Keneiloe Molopyane

Biological Anthropologist

breaking ground and stereotypes

meet keneiloe

An archaeologist and biological anthropologist in South Africa, Keneiloe Molopyane is in search of fossil remains that aid in our understanding of human evolution. Molopyane is a lead excavator in the Rising Star Cave System and a scientific researcher at the Centre for Exploration of the Deep Human Journey at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is the first South African woman of color to serve as Principal Investigator for Gladysvale Cave and the Maropeng and Sterkfontein Visitor Centres. She was named one of 15 National Geographic Society Emerging Explorers in 2021. Molopyane is also the inspiration behind “Bones,” a fictional character in the SuperScientist comic book series.

breaking ground and stereotypes
Nominated by: Joe Grabowski FI'18
Class of 2023 Location South Africa
Author: Mathabela Tsikoane

I first got involved in archaeology as a seven-year-old captivated by fictional characters on TV and in movies. I would become an archaeologist, in the position to tell the story of South African history, as a native South African. I have embarked on a career that has long been dominated in Africa and in popular media by foreign white men. The time has come for the story of the African continent to be told by its Indigenous peoples in a manner that not only speaks to the global audience, but, most importantly, to a local one—for natives of a country can tell the origin story of their peoples better than anyone else given the chance.

“The time has come for the story of the African continent to be told by its Indigenous peoples in a manner that not only speaks to the global audience, but, most importantly, to a local one—for natives of a country can tell the origin story of their peoples better than anyone else given the chance”

- Keneiloe Molopyane

I am leading expeditions at the Cradle of Humankind to discover fossil remains that contribute to the story of our deep human journey. For my work at Gladysvale Cave, my team is composed of South African citizens largely from the surrounding communities. I am very proud to fund students to gain much-needed field and lab experience. We have the people and skills at hand as an endemic scientific community. I strive to be the best in the field so future generations from minority groups can be exposed to, “if I can see it, I can be it” and change the narrative voice of our human journey to ensure that “parachute science” becomes an artifact of the past.

As a person of color (POC), I could not be prouder than to have been chosen as the inspiration behind “Bones,” a comic book character in the SuperScientists educational series who represents the field of paleoanthropology. It just so happens that Bones has become my alter ego, in addition to becoming an inspiration for a younger generation of POC archaeologists.

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