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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Wits Archaeologist named 2021 National Geographic Explorer

Archaeologist and biological anthropologist, Keneiloe Molopyane, has been recognised as a trailblazer by the prestigious National Geographic Society.

Molopyane has been announced as part of the National Geographic Society’s 2021 Emerging Explorer cohort.

“It’s been overwhelming. Since I found out, I’ve had little time to sit back and realise what it all means. I think it’s still sinking in,” said Molopyane.

According to the National Geographic Society, the Emerging Explorer cohort includes individuals breaking through in their respective fields with big ideas. These individuals are then nominated by the National Geographic Society to become a part of the global National Geographic Explorer community of changemakers.

Alex Moen, Chief Explorer Engagement Officer at the National Geographic Society said Molopyane was selected as a member of this cohort because she exemplifies what it means to be a National Geographic Explorer.

“Through her work as an archaeologist and biological anthropologist, and her focus on inspiring the next generation, Keneiloe is advancing our understanding of the world and all that’s in it,” said Moen.

What this means for Molopyane is she will have the opportunity to work with National Geographic to pursue new projects, collaborate with other Explorers, amplify her work to National Geographic audiences, and do educational outreach through the Society.

She will also participate in public speaking and media training, and will attend this year’s Explorers Festival virtually in June.

Molopyane joined the Rising Star Cave research team in 2018 as a junior underground astronaut.

She completed her PhD in biological anthropology at Wits in 2020, and then became involved in the UW105 Cave excavations, where she took on a leadership role in the expedition.

Molopyane has since become the first postdoctoral research fellow at the Wits Centre for Exploration of the Deep Human Journey.

The centre is headed up by fellow Wits graduate and National Geographic Explorer at Large, Professor Lee Berger.

Molopyane joins a group of 14 other scientists, educators, and storytellers in the 2021 Emerging Explorer cohort – a group of people whose fields of expertise are as diverse as culinary history and marine biogeochemistry.

“They’re amazing people, phenomenal. I feel proud to represent Africa, and hope to see more Africans receiving the same recognition in the coming years,” said Molopyan.

She added that she has met her cohort via Zoom but hopes for the opportunity to soon be together in the same room with them.

Molopyane’s postdoctoral research will entail deep exploration of the famous Gladysvale Cave system which is located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

Molopyane will graduate with her PhD at Wits in the July graduations this year. She joins the ranks of more than five other Wits graduates that hold the title of National Geographic Explorer.

“I’ve been telling people for a long time that I am an explorer, but now the title is official,” she said.

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