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Discover: The excellent East London Museum

Dedicated to natural and human history, the East London Museum's major collections include birds, molluscs, cultural history and anthropology.

The museum is internationally known for its coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae – a fish belonging to a group which was believed to have become extinct some 70 million years ago until the living specimen was trawled in 1938.

A large fossil mammal-like reptile from the Karoo, Kannemeyeria simocephalus, dating back to nearly 230 million years also features in the museum.

In the cultural section there are several galleries devoted to the material culture of the Xhosa-speaking peoples with emphasis on beadwork and personal adornment. There is also a fine exhibition of maritime history with cannon recovered from the 17th Century Portuguese Carrack Nossa Senhora da Atalaia.

Other displays include the Nahoon Footprints – the world’s oldest human trace fossil footprints left by a human at Nahoon Point 124 000 years ago and the Hofmeyr Skull, about 36 years old, which provides evidence of modern humans leaving Africa for Eurasia.

Currently the museum is working on a Botanical Exhibition – the aim of which is to increase awareness of knowledge associated with plant resources and highlight some of the ways in which botanical knowledge has been acquired and transferred through generations. Use of imifino (traditional leafy vegetables) and plants for medicinal and ritual use will be covered. The first phase opened in 2019, with the second phase due to open in 2020.

The East London Museum has had many temporary exhibitions (on display for a limited period of time) over the 25 years under review, some exhibitions being produced in-house and others on loan from other institutions. The exhibitions produced in-house have covered a range of topics and relied on members of the community for their input.

Examples of topics covered in temporary exhibitions:

Plants and People Botanical Gallery - 2019

Coelacanth 80th Anniversary memorabilia - 2018

Dominican 800th Jubilee – 2016

Sport in the Struggle – 2015

World War 1 – 2014

ANC Centenary – 2012

German Print (Shweshwe) - 2008

Steve Biko – 2011

Indigenous Games – 2011

Trams of East London - 2011

Soccer World Cup 2010

Traditional leaders 2006

Freedom Charter 2005

Rock Art 2001

Indian Community of East London 1997

First Democratic Elections 1994


The Museum has researchers in the fields of natural science (Malacology, Ornithology and Biodiversity) and human history (History and Anthropology). Scientists have contributed to academic journals and popular publications over the years. Some scientists have represented the museum internationally, for example, recently Dr Philip Whittington, an expert in seabird research in South Africa, was requested by the Department of Environmental Affairs to spend time in the Antarctic as part of a team doing research on the implications of climate change in the region.

The Museum is currently engaged in a collaborative project – Wild Coast P5 Project- an international initiative concerned with research in the fields of archaeology and human evolution along the Eastern Cape Wild Coast.

Museum staff liaise and/or serve in advisory capacity on various community structures and government bodies in East London, for example:

  • Nahoon Point Nature Reserve

  • Strandloper Ecotourism Board

  • Sr Aiden Quinlan Trust

  • Provincial Coastal Committee

  • Marine Working Group

  • Heroes Park

  • Armed Struggle Living Museum

  • Amathole Rock Art Association

  • Border Wildflower Society

  • Nahooners

  • Ann Bryant Art Gallery

  • East London Guild Theatre

  • Buffalo City Environmental Trust

  • Dept. Environmental Affairs

  • Eastern Cape Tourism Board

The East London Museum is part of the tourist route for cruise ships that visit East London Harbour. Excellent quality tours are provided for international visitors.

The Museum has an active Friends of the Museum group who assist the Museum staff at functions and raise funds for the Museum. For example, the Friends raised funds to have the Oceanos Lifeboat restored and a shelter built for it in 2013.

The Museum has an active School Service where lessons may be booked with Museum Educators. Over the past 20 years Museum educators have given lessons to no less than

169 000 learners.

Find out more about these and other fascinating exhibits and artefacts at

Source: East London Museum

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