Conversations about Creativity


An Interview with Paleobotanist

Dr. John Anderson:

Imaginative Leaps Back to the Past and into the Future


June 13, 2017

British born Professor John M. Anderson did his BSc in exploration geology and a doctorate in palaeobotony. He was awarded a Professorship at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), Port Elizabeth. His research and interests have diversified into a far-reaching range of interlinking topics but the on-going research at the center of it all, has been on the fossil flora of the Late Triassic Molteno Formation – deposited around the time of origin of the dinosaurs and mammals in the Karoo Basin of South Africa.  Anderson has numerous publications.


 Ellen: When you think about the time of the earliest dinosaurs and mammals, what kind of visual images do you conjure up in your mind or are the images more in line with diagrammatic representations you have studied?  I presume that visually, you take an imaginative leap back into a very distant past and move in.  If so, how real and imprinted has your visualizations of that period become in your mind? 

John:  As if walking about in the wilderness today – that’s certainly the best way of visualizing the Karoo landscape some 220 million years ago at the time of the Molteno flora, home to those earliest of dinosaur and mammal populations. So very different was the Karoo back then with its braided and meandering rivers crisscrossing a vast, temperate, wooded inland floodplain. The Karoo in those distant days was at the heart of the Gondwanaland Supercontinent before it split up and drifted apart. This photograph below taken of Hadedas in 2017 at The Amphitheatre, is a reminder of the dinosaurs.

A pair of Hadeda Ibis

Ellen: Any particular difference you would like to discuss?

John: One wonderful difference between one’s image of those distant pristine days and now: then there were no streaming lines of trucks and cars, no high-powered lines, no fences holding back herds of sheep and cattle. There was none of the paraphernalia of modern Homo sapiens. No hint of the most contradictory species ever to tread this earthly planet as it journeys about the sun!

Ellen: Contradictory – why?

John: We are the most extraordinary of all possible species! We are capable of everything from the most insane trench warfare to the most sublime concert music; from blinding greed to the most selfless charity; from mindless littering to the art of Rubens and Picasso; from fouling our atmosphere and causing climate change to the science of Madame Curie and Einstein. We are capable of understanding continental drift, yet building cities on the grinding edges of continental plates.

Ellen: You are a pretty extraordinary member of the human species yourself, John. Your contribution to science is truly impressive. Sir Peter Crane, when he was director of Kew Gardens, London, wrote: “I am not aware of any set of fossil assemblages that have been collected with such intensity, such uniformity of approach and such care…” He was referring then to yours and Heidi Anderson Holmes’s work in collecting from one hundred Molteno Formation sitesmostly new, within the extensive Karoo Basin of South Africa. 

John:  Good old Peter Crane. He too is a palaeobotanist, but one specializing on the flowering plants (the angiosperms) and their origins.

When Heidi (who was to become my first wife) and I first headed out to Little Switzerland in 1967, exactly 50 years ago, we had absolutely no idea of the significance of the Molteno Formation on the global stage. It was the first Molteno site that she and I collected from. And what a beautiful site nestled at the foot of a sandstone cliff along a scarp-slope of untouched wet forest, with the Natal Drakensberg stretching out magnificently before one! No better place to start!Kannaskopia affiliated leaves and cones

Ellen: Amazing that fifty years later, the Molteno Formation is still part of your life’s work.

John: We had no reason then to think we’d spend the next few decades taking numerous trips out into the Karoo, finding endless new fossil-plant localities, and amassing a huge collection from them. The thing was that a sizable proportion of what we dug up was new, and that every locality added something further to the growing picture. By the time we got to 100 sites, it was time to put aside the pick and shovel—to be sure we could finish describing the whole flora. It’s for the next generation to head out and find another 100 sites.

Molteno fossils at ESI

Ellen:  I see such similarities between the artistic method and the scientific one, for example, as you just said: “What we dug up was new.” I see that search for something seminal with the arts, too. When you look at what you are painting for example, and see something new that surprises you, you have a strong need to explore – dig up – the unfolding possibilities. Also, I think that both the scientific and the artistic methods generally begin with questions such as what if or what do I see? They both begin with curiosity followed by a desire to incorporate an emerging possibility into something new.

John:   Absolutely, both are about heading out there into new territory. Seeking something new. Something untouched by human hand or mind. Two of my grand kids have just been out here from London with their parents for Easter. Little William, who is still five, popped out of nowhere one day with a neat question and an answer. ‘What’s an hypothesis? It’s an idea that you try and prove! And that observation coming from the five-year-old, hit the nail pretty much on the head. That’s pretty much the scientific method.

Ellen: To me John, your thinking is both highly scientific and marvelously creative, in fact, I marvel at your embrace of punctilious scientific thought and your highly creative linguistic ability. How easily do you switch from one mode of thinking to another or do you use all these modalities simultaneously – well almost? I experienced this facility of yours in our ODE TO GREEN: A SCIENTIST AND A FANTASIST IN CONVERSATION and with some of our other banter:



John: Thanks Ellen, that’s most kind of you! Yes, it’s quite true that I spend my days scampering back and forth between the sciences and the arts. Chasing from left hemisphere to right hemisphere, back and forth. The left I got from my dad, the right mostly from my mom. And I thank them regularly for the pretty even share of both; the two sides of the coin, left and right, science and art, fact and fiction, the stoic and the emotional.

Ellen:  I am presuming John that your scientific journey started when you were a young child growing up in England. I should imagine also, that the artistic aspects of you were also apparent early on. Did these different sides of you ever conflict or did they complement each other?

John I was born at the very worst of times – in the middle of the Second World War; midway through 1943. And not far from the heart of London where Hitler was doing his utmost to erase us from the canvas. Though I have no conscious recall of those years, they clearly play a central role in who I am. The human brain is programmed from the very start of life. My subconscious will be filled with those abysmal wartime events. My dad was a true stoic, my mom highly strung. They will have found little common ground with the bombs flying about. That sense of pending fate, that sense of disharmony will have lived with me in infancy and to this day. Hence I guess, my strong left-right hemisphere response to the Sixth Extinction – the scientific response and the emotional response.

Ellen: How old were you when you and your family came to South Africa from England and why did they decide to immigrate?

John I was a kid of around 4 when we left England. My dad had been offered a job at the Medical Research Institute in Johannesburg and I guess things looked rosier in South Africa than they did in England in the aftermath of the war.

 Ellen: What were the parental and family influences on both your pursuit of science and your deep interest in art?

John My parents met at the Wellcome Laboratories in London. Both had their doctorates, my dad a bacteriologist, my mom a microbiologist. My dad was through and through a scientist, nothing was true unless proven again and again, thoroughly left hemisphere; my mom far more emotional, far more the artist, far more right hemisphere. Both had made some decent impact in their fields by the time I appeared: my dad had written a textbook entitled ‘An Introduction to Bacterial Chemistry’ (1938), which had made it to a reprint of the 2nd edition by 1948; my mom had shared in the research on the sulphonamides, the forerunners of penicillin in the development of antibiotics. So science was in the blood of us three siblings. The art is not so clear: both parents read hugely; my mom was pretty adept at sketching as is evident from her biological notebooks going back to her Leeds university days.

Ellen: So it was therefore not surprising that your education centered on your deep-seated passion and love of scientific discovery – and maybe, on creativity, too?

John:  My university career was spent entirely at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. I began with a BSc majoring in geology. But back then, that almost inevitably ended in a career in exploration – geology and mining. That held no fascination for me at all. The exploitation of and trading in gold, diamonds, platinum, chrome, tin, meant nothing to me. So I shifted to doing an honours degree in palaeontology (all fields from anthropology to the plants and animals of the Karoo). That was when my excitement in research really began and I continued on directly to an MSc converted into a PhD in palaeobotany.

Ellen: And all along, your artistic side has fed your scientific side and the reverse is also true. Both require imagination and intuition. Right?

John:  True! Yes, when I sit at my 2 Mont Blanc ‘office’ (at my daughter Hilary’s place in Paradys Kloof, Stellenbosch) and look out at Table Mountain, I enjoy quite a spectrum of imaginative leaps. For me, it is the most iconic mountain on Planet Earth – for a handful of reasons: geological, anthropological, historical and political. Then, there is its pure beauty, especially at sunset.

Ellen: What thoughts – if any – accompany you as you experience those sunsets?

John: I think of the Explosion of Life –  and how Table Mountain was being deposited in a great rift near the southern edge of Gondwana during multicellular-life’s Big Bang in the wake of the melting of Snowball Earth. I think of the Milky Way Galaxy and how our solar system revolves around the galaxy every 220 million years or so. I think of the upper sandstone cliffs of Table Mountain that were laid down around about 2 revolutions of the galaxy back (with our Earth in about the same position as it is now).

I think of the epic story of Homo sapiens along the southern coastline of Africa over the past 200,000 years. And of the European colonization of that coast (from the early 1400s). Of the decimation of the San, of the birth of the wine industry (from 1659). I think of Charles Darwin (evolution) and Jan Smuts (holism) and Nelson Mandela (reconciliation). And my university rock-climbing days. And international geological conferences. And of extreme inequality – perhaps more evident than anywhere else globally – and where that might lead. And of spectacular sunsets shifting north and south with the seasons.

Ellen: So even while looking at the sun setting over Table Mountain, you are still busy thinking?

John: The mind is never still when looking out upon that iconic mountain!

Table Top Mountain painting

Ellen: You have an amazing ability John, to take these mega-leaps back to the past and in the same way, project into the future. How do you see the future of the planet and what is in store for humankind?

John: True again. I have spent my life racing backwards and forwards through geological time. And I do wonder a good deal about Homo sapiens and our future as I look out towards Table Mountain (as just noted). Let me elaborate a bit: For most of our 200,000 years as modern humans, we appear to have taken a good many of our cultural leaps forward along the southern Cape coast, oftentimes, with Table Mountain out there in the distance. And I think of more recent South African history, of Jan Smuts, for instance. Pretoria (where he lived and worked much of his life) and Table Mountain (which he climbed many a time) could be considered joint birthplace of Holism and of the United Nations! And then there is Nelson Mandela, who sat looking out at Table Mountain during those 26 years of his incarceration, dreaming his great thoughts of reconciliation!

Ellen: The concept of reconciliation is today urgent in so many countries.

John: What’s happened to the United Nations and reconciliation!? We are deep into the Anthropocene, the age of man! Our impact on the planet is of geological proportions – in the minutest wink of geological time. That impact is taking exponential leaps and bounds – from when we first appeared as a new species in Africa (200,000 years ago); to when we colonized the world out of Africa (around 70,000 years ago); to the Agricultural Revolution (10,000 years ago in the Middle East). Then the Industrial Revolution (Watt’s steam engine, 1769), the Medical Revolution (Pasteur’s germ theory, 1867, and Fleming’s Penicillin, 1928); and the concomitant human population explosion from 1 billion (1800), to 2 billion (1930), to 7 billion (2011) and 8 billion (2025)! Suicide?

 EllenSo you give warnings of the calamitous results of not warding off our impact on the planet, and you continue to record as you have done for so long, the fossil floras of the past. Your monograph series, which is unique in the field, has shown this flora to represent what might well prove to reflect the moment of greatest plant diversity through geological times. Tells us more about that and where you think this essential diversity is now heading.

John:  We’ve now completed 7 thick Molteno volumes, ranging from 300-500 pages, in that process of writing it all up. And have still 3 or 4 to go (though these are all well on the way, nestled within a spread of ring-binders). Within the series, we have also put considerable research time into two volumes placing the Molteno in context in the evolution of plants in South Africa (1985) and globally (2007). The first included a full review of fossil floras through the geological column in SA, the second a full review of fossil gymnosperms (cone-bearing plants) worldwide. It is through these reviews that we could pose the hypothesis that the Molteno represents the heyday of gymnosperm diversity through time, and possibly of plant diversity overall. The generally held view is that the peak moment in plant diversity, since colonising the landscape some 430 million years ago, is today. Or perhaps, to be more precise, 10,000 years ago just prior to the Agricultural Revolution!

Ellen: How can that “peak moment” be sustained? Or can it?

John: With our converting huge swathes of landscape to monoculture, diversity is rapidly heading one way. It’s been estimated that the croplands of the Earth, occupy an area about the size of South America; and the grazing lands an area about the size of Africa. We are a voracious invasive species!

Ellen: Almost twenty years ago, in 1998, your concern for our deteriorating global and local environment led you to the founding of the Gondwana Alive Project.

John: Yes, in 1998, my close colleague Maarten de Wit hosted the 10th ‘International Gondwana Symposium’ in Cape Town. It was then that I took the decision to split my time more or less evenly between our fossil-plant work and driving initiatives focused on addressing the escalating extinction of life on Earth. The Gondwana Alive Project (Gondwana being the assembly of southern continents as they were 200-300 million years ago) was hence born among a host of global geologists and palaeontologists on the slopes of Table Mountain. We drew on nine top scientists in diverse fields around South Africa to contribute towards our first book, Towards Gondwana Alive: promoting biodiversity & stemming the Sixth Extinction (1999).

These are my opening words as editor, on the inside flap of our book:

Imagine an asteroid the diameter of central Sydney slamming into the Earth. We humans are that asteroid. Humankind is rapidly bringing about the extinction of life worldwide, irreversibly destroying the natural beauty and diversity of our Earth, impotently converting our planet into a sad sullen slum.

Ellen: That publication had very impressive endorsements, John. Would you name a few?

John: Sure, it includes dedicated endorsements from global leaders in a spread of fields: Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, The Dalai Lama, David Attenborough, Prince Charles, Jane Goodall, Edward O. Wilson and others. E.O. Wilson, Professor emeritus of Harvard, is perhaps the most influential biologist of our time. Where Smuts gave us the word holism, Wilson gave us the word biodiversity. For me, those two words, holism and biodiversity, are the most important in our lexicon! They should be tumbling from the tongue of everyone to the furthest corners of our world. In Wilson’s endorsement, he wrote: ‘This is just the kind of projection of science to the public we need worldwide to save biodiversity … ‘. Kofi Annan, who was then the Secretary-General of the United Nations, included these words. ‘It is my hope that this book will reach out to all the people of the world and serve as a catalyst for action to steer us away from the dangerous course of business-as-usual.’ President Mandela, as he still was, wrote: ‘I endorse the ideals of Gondwana Alive because it approaches, as I see it, the very core of two concerns most dear to me – the children of today’s world and the children of tomorrow’s world’.

Our dedication reads, ‘For our children’s children and their children’. A share of any gains from the ongoing project, are committed to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

Ellen: And the work is ongoing?

John:  Our Gondwana Alive initiative is certainly ongoing. It’s been anything but easy going! We haven’t yet met the expectations of our endorsers; we haven’t made any inroads yet into stemming the Sixth Extinction. It has developed into a Gondwana Alive Society (see our website). We have all sorts of dreams, including really going global by 2020 with a range of legacy projects: ’Grow green’; ‘Green paths’; ‘AfriCradlePark’, !Khwa—ttu.

Ellen: Closely allied are the ‘Africa Alive Corridors‘ and ‘Homo sapiens Corridor‘ books with your colleague Maarten de Wit. Also the Earth Alive Strategies that you initiated. Please tell us more about all of this.

John:  ‘Africa Alive Corridors’ tells the biography of Africa over 4 billion years or so; and the ‘Homo sapiens Corridor’ the story of our species since their appearance around 200,000 years ago. We have some 50 contributors to each, top people in the fields from South Africa, Africa and globally. There are two sides to these projects: telling the geological, biological, cultural biography of Africa, and drawing in all 1 billion persons who live on the continent as co-curators of their unmatched heritage.

Ellen: If only humans could live up to being co-curators of “their unmatched heritage”!

John: It is sadly ironical that Africa is the place of our human origins at every step of our evolution over the past 10 million years, along with being the center of Earth’s geo-biodiversity, and home to the only intact megafauna, yet it is the continent of greatest human suffering, from poverty, disease, illiteracy and inequality, to internecine warfare and child slavery.

Ellen: The ongoing tragedy is immense. When is the deadline for your books?

John:  We have our aim set at getting the two Corridors books to the publishers by end-2017. Then there’s our ‘First-Person Short Stories’: a series of 20 two-page stories, written by 20 different authors, from poets to archaeologists to San chiefs, standing in the shoes of persons at particular select moments from a million years ago till now. Imagine our very first fish dinner (at Pinnacle Point, 162,000 years ago). Imagine the first-ever necklace lovingly made (Blombos Cave, 75,000 years ago). Deadline for this is mid-2018 (its already well on the way).  Thereafter, we aim to encourage leading researchers across Africa to drive the production of books on each of the other 19 corridors. To reach all persons, young and old, professor or farmer, we aim to get the story of Africa out there in all different media. The dream is reaching every school and family across the continent.

Ellen: As you have said, one billion people should become “co-curators of their unmatched heritage.” We all are and all need to do in some way what we can to get the story of Africa (to which we are all linked) to as many people as we can. This is what you, John, continue to do in so many different ways. All of your work – from palaeobotany to Earth Alive, to cultural history are closely linked and both your scientific and creative thought are continually merging to find effective ways to ward off the calamitous effects of avarice and thoughtlessness on our planet. So with regard to your own scientific-creative fluidity, and the fact that science is so much more objective than the arts, how do you, so meticulous in your scientific research, become creatively playful and imaginative? An example of this is our Synnovations which I mentioned before.

John: At UNESCO’S ‘International Year of Planet Earth’ conference in Arusha, Tanzania (May 2008), we launched our publication ‘Earth Alive!  101 Strategies towards Stemming the Sixth Extinction & Global Warming’.  Along with this, we created a pack of 101 playing cards, covering the set of strategies. We managed to get 10 selected South African school students and 10 Tanzanian school students to the event. They occupied the foyer to the congress hall through the duration of the conference, competing against each other using the 101 Earth Alive cards. Creativity and scientific enquiry at play! The congress attendees were intrigued, as was President Kikwete of Tanzania, who engaged closely with the students.

Ellen: Imagination undoubtedly plays a big role in your work as a scientist.

John:  Let’s put it at say 50%. Always thinking big! Always aiming at the ‘impossible’! Always seeking new paths. Always thinking holistically with our children’s children and their children’s generations in mind.

Ellen: So there are certainly parallels between the thinking and the aspirations of scientists and committed creators? 

John:  No question! Take Leonardo Da Vinci as the embodiment of all – the quintessential Renaissance man. Take Michelangelo and Galileo, both tackling tradition head on, both pushing the limits within the fold of the Catholic Church in the early 1500s and early 1600s respectively. Take Isaac Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica’ and Christopher Wren’s ‘St Pauls Cathedral’ in the later 1600s. Take Charles Darwin and Wagner or Verdi creating new worlds in biology and opera in the 1850s; or a half-century later, Einstein and Picasso at the very cutting edge, both reshaping our horizons.

 Ellen: All unrelenting in their quest for discovering the new.

John: Unquestionably ‘unrelenting’. Think of Michelangelo spending all those years half upside-down painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or Darwin spending those 5 years in the Beagle circumnavigating the world in search of nature’s truth. Charles Darwin started off at Cambridge studying to become a priest; he ended up some decades later writing his ‘Origin of species’ (1859) and giving up the church altogether.

Ellen: Science and the arts deal with uncertainty as they try to transform what was initially vague into new ideas and creations. Yet scientists and artists have to be resolute in trying to find a solution where possible to their initially imaginative leaps.

John:  Let’s take the leap from the Age of Reason (say 1680-1800) through to Romanticism (say 1800-1870): from Linnaeus, Rousseau and Goethe, through to Byron, Beethoven and Turner. It’s a wonderful leap from science and philosophy through to the arts; from Linnaeus naming and classifying plants and animals; to Rousseau and Goethe writing to Linnaeus saying how they loved his work and got to know and love the natural world through it; to Byron’s poetry and Beethoven’s symphonies and Turner’s landscapes all epitomizing Romanticism. The love of nature was key to Romanticism! From science to the arts!

Ellen: They formed marvelous internal collaborations with the many sides of themselves as well as collaborating at times, with others. I see you doing that John. You often collaborate with the many sides of yourself as well as with diverse disciplines when a project requires the specialties of many. You collaborate with other scientists, writers – people in many different areas. What are the benefits of this sharing of ideas and of collaborations as a whole?

John:  For me there are many benefits. First it makes me feel more human. A bit like living the hunter-gatherer life 20,000 years ago – living in a community. Then there’s the holistic side of it: being able to bring all sides of the picture together (the science, arts, technology). Then there’s the international side, having close ties around the world! Take our ‘Homo sapiens Corridor’.  To piece together the full human story, we have anthropologists, archaeologists (those doing the excavations), geologists, botanists, zoologists, linguists, those studying bushman art, and more; and they come from all over.

Ellen: So how do you work effectively as a team both scientifically and creatively and who are some of the people you have worked with and on what projects?

John:  We might hop again across to our Late Triassic Molteno fossil-plant project to take another of our ongoing projects. Speaking of just recently, and aside from a number of palaeontological colleagues, there’s Christian Autotte of Montreal, who has come across twice from Canada to do colour photography. There’s Hannah Bonner, a splendid artist/illustrator from Majorca in the Mediterranean who has worked on certain reconstructions. There’s Ditshego Madope, from Pretoria, who’s just completed a BA Hons Publications: she’s our layout artist. All are essential contributors. One’s going to get nowhere in an international cricket test without specialist batsmen, bowlers, wicket keeper and slip fielders.

Ellen: Someone who undertakes your kind of work has to spend inordinate amounts of time in the field alone. Does it ever feel lonely or are curiosity about and the mystery of it all, sufficiently satisfying companions?

John:  To be sure, we’ve been on numerous field trips collecting our Molteno plants from 100 sites all the way around the trapezoidal outcrop traversing really nice hilly and mountainous terrain. It runs some 400 by 200 km skirting all the way around the outside of Lesotho.  However, I’m anything but a loner, and always, there’ve been family (kids included), friends and colleagues (not infrequently from overseas) on these collecting trips. Never alone; but certainly numerous hours spent digging and cleaving sedimentary slabs with one’s focus on the surfaces being exposed.

John preparing to chip clear a Kannaskoppia leaf

Ellen: What a life journey you have had! Firstly, the geographical one: Britain to Southern Africa, a land that is the antithesis of the geo-scenic feel of the country in which you were born. Do you think these differences that you consciously or subconsciously observed and felt, contributed to you eventually devoting a lifetime to saving the natural environment – and can you attribute your search for a way to avoid the deterioration of our planet, to your early formative years? 

John:  I still feel half British (more broadly European) and half South African (more broadly African), and always, one with our Earth. All three play an integral part in who I am, and the projects I’ve immersed myself in. Our ‘Earth Alive’ and ‘Gondwana Alive’ projects are global, the ‘Africa Alive Corridors’ and ‘Homo sapiens Corridor’ projects and the ‘Molteno Palaeoflora,’ are African, the ‘Millennium’ is largely of Europe. With the English language having colonised the planet, I often thank my lucky stars I was born in England. Though I’m by no means always terribly proud of the way the English managed to build their Empire.

Ellen: Do you think there is hope for making the international community aware of the problems we face?

John: I have to believe there is hope for us as a global community to shift our ways fundamentally and in short term. How would one put in 10-hours of concentrated work a day – mostly towards this end – if one didn’t?  An intricate mosaic of optimism and pessimism shuffles continuously in one’s mind, but the former dominates. I do watch the world news, CNN, Sky, BBC, latish most nights. The idea of a close-knit global community able to solve global issues surely looks impossible.

Ellen: So what are your observations in terms of global governance?

John: Our half-dozen pillars of global governance are entirely impotent in the face of the 6th global extinction event: if they worked, the world, quite simply, would not be in such a fatal mess (literally and figuratively). With just one of 43 thousand species of mammal (us) exploding in population, whilst virtually all others are rapidly declining in numbers, we must come up with something fundamentally new if we are to stem the tsunami of extinction. Something as new as Copernicus demoting the Earth from the center of the universe; as new as Newton’s universal gravitation; as new as Darwin’s evolution; as new as Einstein’s relativity; as new as Crick and Watson’s DNA! We must shift from the dangerous course of ‘business as usual’ (Kofi Annan), if we have our children’s children at heart (Mandela)! 

Ellen: What are the half-dozen pillars of global governance that are entirely impotent in the face of the 6th global extinction?

John: So here are the 6 current pillars, and here’s the essence of our ‘Earth Alive’ (2008) proposal:

Nationalism: Today: some 200 countries insisting loudly on their own sovereignty. North Korea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Russia: it’s a nightmare of conflict.

Tomorrow:  One world, countries replaced by natural regions (with some degree of autonomy), a United World (not Nations) run by persons of proven knowledge, wisdom, sincerity and integrity.

Military:  Today: Even today it absorbs vast sums of money, political energy, human lives. Wasn’t the almost continuous Medieval barbarity on the battlefield enough? Weren’t ‘World War I’ and ‘World War II’ enough? Since we left our hunter-gatherer way of life some 10,000 years ago, our species has gone berserk!

Tomorrow:  No armies, no guns, no fighter planes; violence on the TV, movies and Internet trimmed to the absolute minimum (aside from portraying historical reality).

 Democracy:  Today: It is held by the West with such sacrosanctity. In 1300, it was still only for the landed gentry; in 1900, it was still only for men; in 2017, it is still only for our species (humans). It is an evolving concept begun in Classical Greece. Why do we suppose the presently held parameters work?

Tomorrow: All other species are given the vote (by proxy); infants and future generations are given the vote (by proxy); past generations are given the vote (by proxy); in the case of past and present generations of humans, those persons of greatest knowledge (for their time), sincerity, integrity, represent the rest of us.

 Capitalism:  Today: Based on Adam Smith’s concept that individual selfishness leads to the common good. This simply no longer holds. The gap between rich and poor is increasing; inequality pervades ubiquitously; the arts and sciences are insufficiently funded; fossil fuels still increase, perhaps beyond the tipping point.

Tomorrow:  Universal education, healthcare and justice; all persons everywhere become curators of our natural and cultural heritage; climate change and extinction are optimally addressed using all necessary resources.

 Rule of law:  Today: works for those with the money to pay for it; evolves so slowly as to seem mostly outdated in addressing current needs.

Tomorrow: Universal justice for all, with nobody anywhere above the law; laws, local and global, adapt continuously to suit evolving understanding and needs.

 Organized religion:  Today: With so many gods and so many sects; religion appears to divide us rather than unify us. Surveys show that the deeper one is into science, the less one is into religion. Religion as we know it today, appeared and grew concurrently with the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago.

Tomorrow:  Oneness with nature; a sense of Gaia, that all is interdependent, as it was for the first 190,000 years of our sapient journey.

I keep a daily diary, and at the start of each year I write the following on the opening page:

Paul Allen – “The possible is constantly being redefined

Steve Jobs – was dedicated to solving the “seemingly impossible

Lewis Gordon Pugh – “Achieving the impossible” (title of his biography)

Audrey Hepburn – “Nothing is impossible, the word says I’m possible

Ellen: There is no hand-wringing from you, John – no giving up without doing your scientific, creative and intellectual best which includes your Millennium project.

John:  I’ve touched on my ‘Millennium’ project a couple of times already. It’s been with me since my early days at university. It covers the evolving history of Western civilisation through the past millennium (1000-2000) – a period of unimaginable change from the Dark Ages, through the Scientific Revolution (1543) and the Renaissance peaking at around 1600, to our present computer and internet-dominated era. The idea is the interaction between the arts, sciences and governance, tracking the web of links between the 250 most influential individuals in the 10 categories; Artists, Architects, Composers; Dramatists (writers); Inventors, Mathematical and Natural scientists; Royalty, Statesmen, Philosophers (25 individuals in each).

We have a pack of 250 playing cards covering each of the Millennium characters. And we’ve played with them often – weaving our way through the past 10 centuries – as our kids have grown up and gone through their schooling and university days. It’s like weaving one’s way back and forth through Earth and life history; but just the last moment thereof – that moment that our species has exploded exponentially in numbers and set the Sixth Extinction alight. As with much else on my table, ‘Millennium’ has still to be published. It still has its work to do out there.

Ellen: Immensely burdened, you have to feel when you see the potential for catastrophe ahead. How have you managed to switch off, at times?

John:  For one, I’ve lost myself in games – Chess, Bridge, Scrabble …. ‘Millennium’, ‘101 Earth Alive Strategies’. Fairly addicted really!

Ellen. And you tend to your garden sculptures. Tell us about them and how they also reflect your artistic side.

John:  A pleasure; and please do pop across from Scottsdale, Arizona, sometime soon so I can take you on a guided tour of our 43 Outdoor Sculptures and 43 Indoor Sculptures. You’ll enjoy all the imaginative symbolism. First, let’s head out along our garden perambulatory of 43 trails, circuits, ambits, byways and the like, to explore the outdoor works. Being assembled from rocks, stumps and living plants, most are pretty camouflaged. You wouldn’t really know they were there. I’ll mention just a handful here. There’s ‘Earth Time’ (4,6 billion years of Earth history), ‘Gondwana AliveEarth AliveAfrica Alive’ (a triptych of initiatives), ‘Philosopher’s ridge’ (14 of the Greek philosophers, including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), ‘The Royal Society’ (14 leading British scientists, including Newton, Darwin and Rutherford), ‘Smuts’ Hill’ (Holism, United Nations).

Ellen: The imaginative symbolism found in your garden – I love that concept! Now tell me about the indoor sculptures.

John: So indoors we go. The indoor work is not so camouflaged. Another handful only as a taster: ‘We are our brains’, ‘An enigma of vertebrates’, ‘Millenium(1000-2000)’ , ‘Imizila – the 11th Hour’, ‘A family conference of hedgehogs’.

Oh yes, I must explain why 43 of everything. It is my favorite number. I was born in 1943, as were many others of the ‘Class of 1955’ (our final year in primary school). Track the year 43 down through the centuries and you encounter all sorts of peak historical moments! Most profound for me was the Scientific Revolution in 1543! That was the year Copernicus demoted the Earth from the Center of the Universe and Vesalius published the first great book on human anatomy. And on the arts side, take 1343, for instance, the year Geoffrey Chaucer, father of English literature, was born; or 1643, when Baroque art and sculpture flourished in the guise of Rembrandt and Bernini.

Ellen. The Tate Modern is also part of your vision?

John:  Together with our garden biodiversity, plants, birds and insects, indoor art gallery and bulging library, the sculptures represent for me, a ‘Microcosm of the World’. It speaks to me daily. To use one of your favorite words, Ellen, I had a ‘hunch’ a little while back, that we must aim to get our Amphitheater ‘Microcosm’ represented in one or other form in the refurbished Tate Modern. There it stands so accessible, so loved, along the South Bank of the Thames, London, a little beyond Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.

Ellen: Who are some of your favorite contributors to the arts?

John:  So here’s my right hemisphere at play once again, with great abandonment! I am a great lover of many top Western artists, architects, composers and writers filling the past centuries, but heading all in their fields must be: Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Baroque artist; I just love his voluptuous nude women filling those canvasses; and he was pretty much the first to paint realistic landscapes; George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), Baroque composer, born the same year as JS Bach, and the wine industry proper in the Cape (wine, women and song); Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Romantic philosopher, author of ‘The Social Contract’, was key to the birth of the Romantic Era, with the love of nature as a core element!

I’m perfectly happy to admit serious emotional symbolic bias in this selection. Both Rubens and Rousseau were born on 28 June, sharing my birthday! Handel, born German, became a quintessential Londoner, my hometown.

Ellen: Oh the connectivity of your thinking, John! What you have just said, reminds me of paelaeontologist, evolutionary biologist, Steven Jay Gould, who said of himself: “I can sit down on just about any subject and think about twenty things that relate to it and they’re not hokey connections.” The same can be said about you, John. You have an ability to connect so many different ideas into wonderfully creative wholes. These connections make sense, are fascinating and are not “hokey”. That is indeed an example of the creative and the scientifically-informed-mind, at work and at play. Now let’s talk about the role of science and creativity in informing future generations. Firstly, would you agree that creativity is a language that has the capacity and power to transcend boundaries? And would you agree that science also does, but it needs to be communicated in ways that are more easily comprehensible? The understanding of scientific ideas needs to be encouraged. That is urgent. What are your thoughts?

John:  That gets me back to our ‘Millennium’. Gutenberg and his printing press (1454); Copernicus and Vesalius and the Scientific Revolution (1543); Francis Bacon and his elucidating the Philosophy of Science (1620); the founding of the British Royal Society (1662); were all fundamental turning points. Fundamental shifts in our cultural evolution. Science has absolutely changed the way we understand the world and how we humans are an integral part of nature. We have evolved, like all other animals have evolved. Our ancestors back in the days well before ‘Snowball Earth’ were unicellular organisms akin to bacteria. We are more closely related to chimpanzees than they are to the gorillas – our DNA is extraordinarily similar.

It is crucial that an understanding of science reaches to the heart of every sector of society everywhere. If we are to stem the Sixth Extinction and Climate Change, we need to understand that it is entirely in our own hands. No God is going to intervene to shift us from our unsustainable current course. The reality – uncomfortably – is that Science and Religion are incompatible.

Ellen: What are your thoughts on the potential of science to connect people from all over the world?

John:  There are over 7 billion of us, each with a unique worldview; Science explores the reality of past, present and future – it offers, very probably, our only unifying opportunity. We must take that opportunity! It is now or never!

Ellen: Is that why you share your vast scientific knowledge and experience with large audiences and how do you go about doing this?

John:  The ‘35th International Geological Conference’ in Cape Town last year (Aug/Sept, 2016) offered just such an opportunity. Some 5,000 geologists and palaeontologists from around the world were congregated there at the conference centre so perfectly sited between sea and mountain (Table Mountain again). I was invited to give one of the eight plenary talks, this on our ‘Africa Alive Corridors’. Within the framework of the conference, we also had a special session at which we presented our ‘Homo sapiens Corridor’ along with the directly linked ‘First-Person Short Stories’. An ideal opportunity – science and creativity at work!

Ellen: Communicating the urgency to take action, must weigh heavily on you. I know you give talks and have many publications. Could you tell us about some of these, where you have gone with them and where you hope to go. What publications do you have lined up for 2017 and where will we be able to find them as they come out?

John:  From congresses, to roundtable, to books and papers to theatre – 2017 has them all lined up – a full year.

Ellen: Then there is the Molteno/Amphitheatre ‘factory’. Tell us more about that.

John:  Since ‘retiring’ from SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute), I’ve worked from home: which we call the Amphitheatre, our ‘microcosm of the world’ touched on earlier. Our Molteno collection – some 27,000 catalogued slabs arranged in numerous cabinets with the 100 sites curated in clockwise geographic sequence around the outcrop – used to be housed at SANBI, just a few km from here. It has since gone on a ‘Great Trek’ down the highway to Johannesburg: to ESI (Evolutionary Studies Institute) at Wits University (The University of the Witwatersrand) where we began the collection those 50 years ago. So now, for each volume we’re completing, we loan a goodly number of trays of relevant material and house them here in our converted double garage, lovingly called the ‘Little Molteno Room’. Together with an adjacent study, this constitutes our Molteno/Amphitheatre ‘factory’ – a term coined recently in email banter with a 1950s school friend, Maurice Kahn – ChewyScribe of Monet’s Hill (my nickname for him), now living in Israel. Appropriately, the original ‘Molteno Room’ at SANBI was a converted multiple garage, a huge high-ceilinged barn of a place.

Here’s more from my pen in that Pretoria-Jerusalem email exchange with ChewyScribe: I’m referring to a set of 8 photos taken by Christian Autotte from Montreal, Canada, who was out here for 3 weeks in March — taking the colour photos for our current ‘Kannaskoppia’ Molteno volume. ‘The first set of 4 are of avians: a small selection of today’s co-inhabitants of the Amphitheatre. The second set of 4 are of hominins: of me at work in our palaeobotanical ‘factory’ here at the Amph. today, and over at Wits (Evolutionary Studies Institute) yesterday. The specimen I’m chipping clear (3rd hominin photo) is a Kannaskoppifolia leaf (leaf from Kanna Hill) from Cyphergat, fairly near the town of Molteno (one of the 100 Molteno Formation sites we’ve sampled over the past 5 decades).’

John chipping clear the Kannaskoppia leaf

Ellen:  You are working on a unique genus now. Could you please tell us about it and also, why the title Kannaskoppia and the Triassic Explosion of Life’ for your volume?

JohnKannaskoppia (with its affiliates Kannaskoppifolia and Kannakoppianthus) is uniquely special in several ways – one being that it is perhaps the nearest thing known that represents the fountainhead of the flowering plants (angiosperms) in the Late Triassic world some 220 million years ago (one revolution of the Milky Way Galaxy back).

Secondly, it is nice and diverse, with some 10 species based on the leaves, and is pretty frequent, from 26 of our 100 sites, and generally sufficiently common, enabling one to collect decent-sized populations of specimens showing a range of variation. Thirdly, we have fertile material (female or male cones) from just on half the sites. And some of that material (not much) is found attached – and this is remarkably rare in palaeobotany, where the vast majority of material finds its way to the site of deposition (some way from where the plants were growing) as dissociated bits and pieces. Given all these attributes, the genus, which we’ve reconstructed as a pioneering herbaceous shrub, is a key representative of plant life at this special moment in Earth history.

Ellen: What about your recently completed Molteno Sphenophytes book?

John:  Here’s another bit of my right hemisphere: it was on the very day (20 Aug) that Usain Bolt achieved the ‘Treble-Treble’ (100 m, 200m, 4 x 100 m relay – Beijing 2008, London 2012, Rio 2016) that our 375-pg ‘Molteno Sphenophytes’ (horsetails) book was done – and in exactly those same 8 years (2008-2016) since publication of our ‘Molteno Fern’ volume (and the year of my official retirement from SANBI at 65).

This horsetail volume, our 7th in the Molteno series, has still to surface in the published ranks – having now gone through the peer-review process. But it should soon, in this 50th anniversary year of our first collecting trip to Little Switzerland in 1967! Along with all of this, I do find time for recreation.

Ellen: Which gets us to sport – something you have quite an affinity for.

John:  I love watching international sport, Olympics (Summer and Winter), cricket, rugby, tennis, golf, Formula 1. There’s two primary things about it – it’s international; and it’s about humans performing at their optimal best! I often have it on in the background as I work. Like having classical music on in the background, say a Beethoven symphony by a top orchestra and a top conductor. It’s also international, and also about humans performing individually and communally at their ultimate best! As Nelson Mandela put it, ‘Sport can save the world’!

Ellen: And your sport?

John:  Rock climbing; throughout our university days. Those were the most wonderful days! Every weekend, long-weekend and holidays; scaling the cliff faces during the day; singing, chatting and otherwise socializing around the campfire at night. Seeking new territory – as we’ve spoken about in science and the arts – was an inseparable part of it too. Seeking new rock faces, as remote, as sheer and as high as possible, and opening new routes up those faces was integral to my varsity days. Climbs graded F3 or G, were at the limit in those days; we did lots of them. We took turns leading up those untouched rock faces. Thrilling! Exhilarating!

Ellen: Experiencing rock climbing had an impact on your future?

John: That has certainly colored my life since. Seeking the unknown, the untouched, new ground! Whether in science, art or life, that’s always driven me. If I had learned the piano as a kid, I’d have had to become a composer, not a concert pianist. It’s not simply a matter of finding previously unknown fossils and describing them; it’s about finding more thorough ways of sampling a geological horizon, finding key moments in evolutionary history globally, unraveling new patterns of biodiversity trends through time.

Living close to nature was a large part of those days too. A climbing friend and I began a project plotting the distribution of trees across the Transvaal.

Ellen: Had that been done before?

John: This, too, was new. One can argue that the northern sector of South Africa is the geological hot spot on Earth. It is home to the fullest walk through geological time anywhere. And most of it is beautifully exposed. And across that landscape was perhaps the greatest diversity of indigenous trees and woody shrubs anywhere – close to 1000 species of them. Plotting their distributions was uncharted territory. How had each species and community of species spread themselves, how had they adapted to soil type, geology, topography, climate? The Transvaal was far more pristine in those days; and most of that work has still to be published. Life has simply been too full.

Oh my goodness, everything is so intertwined. We’ve meandered from sport to music to fossils and trees in the wink of an eye! But that’s it, isn’t it, life at its holistic best!

Ellen: Holistic best, indeed! But back again to the Molteno: what then is your 2020 Accord?

John:  Our 2020 Accord is about completing the holistic study of the Molteno by end-2020, a bit less than four years from now. You asked earlier about working in a team. This is all about International holistic science. Our team consists of Heidi Holmes (Australia) and myself (Pretoria) working on the plants; Conrad Labandeira (Smithsonian, Washington) on plant-insect interaction; Olivier Bethoux (Sorbonne, Paris) and Torsten Wappler (Darmstadt, Germany) on the insects; Natasha Barbolini (Wits Univ., Johannesburg) and Cindy Looy (Princeton, California) on the palynology; Johan Neveling’ (Council for Geoscience, Pretoria), on absolute dating.

How I look forward to seeing our closing volume; our holistic synthesis of life in the Molteno – that window onto the peak of the explosion of life in the Late Triassic (in the wake of the Permian Extinction, the mother of all extinctions)! Perhaps, as we’ve said, onto the peak of plant biodiversity in Earth history? That’s the hypothesis – to be proven or disproven through future research globally! Science!

 Ellen: What are your dreams for the future, John?

John:  I’ll be 74 in late June this year; nine years into official retirement. I need to reach 94 to complete all the work piled up! A single professional lifespan is nowhere near enough. My biggest dream is to leave a world for my grand kids and their kids and their generations everywhere that is at least as beautiful and rich with biodiversity as the world we were born into. A world in which the dignity of every human and all other animal and plant species is recognized and cherished! The work on my desk all aims towards that end. I’d love to feel that I have made a significant contribution towards fundamental change; towards stemming the tide of the Sixth Extinction. And along the way I wish to enjoy the best of life and love: family, friends, reading, music, travel, playing monthly chess with our varsity chums of the 1960s.

Today as I write – on 22 April – it happens to be Earth Day, a nice symbolic day for working on my interview with you. Earth Day was instituted in 1969 at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco. It was inspired by the ravages of the 1969 (28 Jan-7 Feb) Santa Barbara oil spill and the political inertia in Washington following it. That was close on 50 years ago; and the oceans have become hopelessly more polluted since!

It was also in 1969 that man first stood on the moon (21 July), looking back at our fragile blue-green Earth. I’d like to dedicate this conversation of ours, Ellen, to Planet Earth and to all of life, terrestrial and marine, hoping to share in its unique bounty!

John Anderson with grand-daughter


Photographs of John Anderson and his work mostly by Christian Autotte.



Anderson, J.M. 1968a. The confused state of classification within the family Procynosuchidae. Palaeont. afr. 11: 77-83. Anderson, J.M. 1968b. The cultural implications of the rhinoceros teeth from Limeworks, Makapansgat. Palaeont. afr. 11: 85-97.

Davey, R.J. & Anderson, J.M. 1970. Micropalaeontology in the search for oil in South Africa. S. Afr. J. Sci. 66(11): 340-349. Anderson, J.M. 1977. Permian. In A. Hallam (ed.), Planet Earth. Elsevier, Oxford. 209-213.

Anderson, J.M. & Schwyzer, R.U. 1977. The biostratigraphy of the Permian and Triassic. Part 4. Palaeomagnetic evidence for large-scale intra-Gondwana plate movements during the Carboniferous to Jurassic. Trans. Geol. Soc. S.A. 80: 211-234.

Anderson, J.M. & Cruickshank, A.R.I. 1978. The biostratigraphy of the Permian and Triassic. Part 5. A review of the classification and distribution of Permo-Triassic tetrapods. Palaeont. afr. 21: 15-44.

Anderson, J.M. 1981. World Permo-Triassic correlations: their biostratigraphic basis. In: Cresswell, M.M. & Vella, P. (eds), Gondwana Five (Proceedings of the Fifth International Gondwana Symposium, Wellington, New Zealand, 1980). A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam. 3-10.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1983b. Vascular plants from the Devonian to Lower Cretaceous in Southern Africa. Bothalia. 14(3,4): 277-344.

Anderson J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1984. The fossil content of the Upper Triassic Molteno Formation, South Africa. Palaeont. afr. 25: 39-59.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1991. A question of approach. S. Afr. J. Sci. 87: 405-407.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1993a. Terrestrial flora and fauna of the Gondwana Triassic. Part 1—Occurrences. In: The

Nonmarine Triassic, ed. by Lucas, S.J. and Morales, M. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science bulletin 3: 3-12.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1993b. Terrestrial flora and fauna of the Gondwana Triassic. Part 2—Co-evolution. In: The

Nonmarine Triassic, ed. by Lucas, S.J. and Morales, M. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science bulletin 3: 13-25.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1995. The Molteno Formation: window onto Late Triassic floral diversity, 27-40. In: Proceedings of the International Conference on global environment and diversification of plants through geological time, ed. by Pant, D.D. Soc. Indian Plant Tax. Allahabad, India, 462 pp.

Cairncross, B., Anderson. J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1995. Palaeoecology of the Triassic Molteno Formation, Karoo Basin, South Africa – sedimentological and palaeoecological evidence. South African Journal of Geology 98(4): 452-478.

Anderson, J.M., Anderson, H.M., Fatti, L.P. & Sichel, H.S. 1996. The Triassic explosion(?): a statistical model for extrapolating biodiversity based on the terrestrial Molteno Formation. Palaeobiology 22(3): 318-328.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1997. Towards new paradigms in Permo-Triassic Karoo palaeobotany (and associated faunas) through the past 50 years. Palaeontologia Africana, Commemorative Volume 33: 11-21.

Anderson, H.M. & Anderson, J.M. 1998. Why not look for proangiosperms in the Molteno Formation? Mededelingen

Nederlands Instituut voor Toegepaste Geowetenschappen TNO, 58.

Anderson, J.M., Anderson, H.M. & Cruickshank, A.R.I. 1998. Late Triassic ecosystems of the Molteno/Lower Elliot Biome of

Southern Africa. Palaeontology 41(3): 387-421.

Anderson, J.M., Kohring, R. & Schlüter, T. 1998. Was insect biodiversity in the Triassic akin to today?—a case study from the

Molteno Formation (South Africa).—Entomologia Generalis 23 (1/2): 15-26, Stuttgart.

Scott, L., Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1998. Chapter 4.2, The early vegetation history: in Vegetation of Southern Africa (book), Cambridge University Press, 62-84.

Anderson, J.M. 1999. International laws: collecting, transporting and ownership of fossils. South Africa. In: Fossil Plants and

Spores, Modern techniques. ed. by Jones, T.P. & Rowe, N.P. The Geological Society, London. 328-329.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1999. Freezing cold to searing heat: plant and insect life of the Karoo Basin. In C. McRae.

Life etched in stone: fossils of South Africa. The Geological Society of South Africa, Johannesburg, 140-167. Anderson, J.M., Anderson, H.M., Archangelsky, S., Bamford, M., Chandra, S., Dettmann, M., Hill, R., McLaughlin, S. &

Rosler, O. 1999. Patterns of Gondwana plant colonisation and diversification. Journal of African Earth Sciences 28(1): 145-167.

Seldon, P., Anderson, J.M., Anderson, H.M. & Fraser, N.C. 1999. Fossil araneomorph spiders from the Triassic of South Africa and Virginia. Journal of Arachnology 27: 401-414

Anderson, J.M. 2000. Towards Gondwana Alive. Earthyear: the essential environmental guide 21: 155-157.

Anderson, J.M. 2002. Biodiversity and the Sixth Extinction. In D. Parry-Davies (ed.). The Enviropaedia: World Summit Edition, 2 pp.

Anderson, J.M. 2003. Under one roof. In: Princess Irene of the Netherlands (ed.) We are nature. 2 pp.

De Wit, M.J. & Anderson, J.M. 2003. Gondwana Alive Corridors: extending Gondwana research to incorporate stemming the Sixth Extinction. Gondwana Research 6(3): 369-408.

Anderson, J.M. & De Wit, M.J. 2004. Celebrating biodiversity to stem the Sixth Extinction: along Gondwana Alive Corridors. In D.D. Pant Commemorative Vol. ca 15 pp.

Anderson, J.M. 2004. The Sixth Extinction. Enviropaedia, 2 pp. Anderson, J.M. 2004. Gondwana Alive Corridors. Enviropaedia, 2 pp.

Scott, A.C., Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 2004. Diversification of plant-insect interactions in the Late Triassic following ecosystem collapse at the Permo-Triassic boundary. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. B. ca 20 pp.

Anderson, J.M. 2005a. The insect contribution to the elucidation of Gondwana biodiversity trends. FossilsX3, Programme and

Abstracts, 3rd International Congress of Paleoentomology. Abstract (p. 8).

Anderson, J.M. 2005b. Towards a monograph on the insects of the Late Triassic Molteno Fm., South Africa. FossilsX3, Programme and abstracts, 3rd International Congress of Paleoentomology. Abstract (p. 8-9).

Anderson, J.M. 2005. A Brief History of the Gymnosperms: diversity trends, abstract, XVI International Botanical Congress

(Gymnosperm Symposium), Vienna, July 2005.

Anderson, J.M. & De Wit, M.J., 2005. Gondwana Alive: at the threshold, Abstract, 12th International Gondwana Symposium, Mendoza, Argentina, November 2005.

Burgoyne, P.M., Van Wyk, A.E., Anderson, J.M. & Schrire, B.D. 2005. Phanerozoic evolution of flora on the African plate,

Journal of African Earth Sciences 43: 13-52.

Anderson, J.M. 2006. Humanity & the Sixth Extinction of life on Earth. In: Secular Spirituality as a contextual critique of religion, (eds) C.W. du Toit & C.P. Mayson. UNISA, Pretoria, 25-27.

Anderson, J.M. 2006. The Late Triassic Molteno as World Heritage. In: R. Prevec (ed.) 14th Biennial Congress of the PSSA, Albany Museum & Rhodes University (abstracts), Grahamstown.

Anderson, J.M. 2006. Biodiversity and the Sixth Extinction. Enviropaedia, 34-35.

Schlüter, T. & Anderson, J.M. 2006. UNESCO’s Vision and Mission of Geosciences in Africa, UNESCO Nairobi Office

Bulletin, July-Dec, 2006, Vol 1, No 1.

Anderson, J.M., de Wit, M.J. & Mashua, T. 2008. Africa Alive Corridors: A continental network of Earth, life and cultural heritage. Geobulletin of the Geological Society of South Africa. December 2008, 10-25.

Anderson, J.M., de Wit, M.J. & van Heerden, A. 2008. Earth Alive; 101 strategies towards stemming the Sixth Extinction & global warming. Minimag, Pretoria, 27 pp (this was first published by Minimag, a magazine for South African school- goers, as a 10-part monthly series through 2007).

Anderson, J.M., de Wit, M.J. & van Heerden, A. 2008. Earth Alive; 101 Strategies towards stemming the Sixth Extinction & global warming (pack of 101 playing cards & game box; based on the booklet of the same title above). AEON & SANBI.

Anderson, J.M., Mashua, T. & de Wit, M.J. 2008. Africa Alive Corridors. Quest 4, 56-59 (a special edition prepared for the

African launch of UNESCO’s International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE), Arusha, Tanzania).

Anderson, J.M. 2009. Nothing by mere authority. In: The evolutionary roots of religion: cultivate, mutate or eliminate? Vol 13 in the South African Science and Religion Forum (SASRF) series, Research Institute of Theology & Religion, UNISA, 83-117.

Selden, P.A., Anderson, H.M. & Anderson, J.M. 2009. A review of the fossil record of spiders (Araneae) with special reference to Africa, and description of a new specimen from the Triassic Molteno Formation of South Africa. African Invertebrates, Pietermaritzburg, Vol 50 (1): 105-116.

Sytchevskaya, E.K., Anderson, H.M. & Anderson, J.M. 2009. Late Triassic fishes of South Africa. In: Researches on paleontology and biostratigraphy of ancient continental deposits (Memories of Professor Vitalii G.Ochev). Eds. M.A. Shishkin & V.P. Tverdokhlebov. Saratov (Nauchnaya Kniga) Publishers, 197-215.

Toteu, S.F., Anderson, J.M. & de Wit, M.J. 2010. Africa Alive Corridors: Forging a new future for the people of Africa by the people of Africa. Journal of African Earth Sciences, 58: 692-715.

Anderson, J.M. 2015. Biodiversity & Extinction, Part 1 Introduction. Supernova, the mag for curious kids, Pretoria. 4.4 (2015), 34-35.

Anderson, J.M., Koekemoer, M. & van Wyk, B. 2015. Biodiversity & Extinction, Part 2 Flowering Plants. Supernova, the mag for curious kids, Pretoria. 4.5 (2015), 34-35.

Anderson, J.M., Davies, G. & Chinsamy-Turan, A. 2015. Biodiversity & Extinction, Part 3 Birds. Supernova, the mag for curious kids, Pretoria. 4.6 (2015), 34-35.

Anderson, J.M. & Owen-Smith, N. 2015. Biodiversity & Extinction, Part 4 Mammals. Supernova, the mag for curious kids, Pretoria. 5.1 (2015), 34-35.

Anderson, J.M., Scholtz, C., Bonner, H. & Eardley, C. 2016. Biodiversity & Extinction, Part 5 Insects. Supernova, the mag for curious kids, Pretoria. 5.3 (2016), 34-35.

Anderson, J.M., Griffiths, C. & Phillips, T. 2016. Biodiversity & Extinction, Part 6 Molluscs. Supernova, the mag for curious kids, Pretoria. 5.4 (2016), 34-35.

Anderson, J.M., Thackeray, F. & Visser, K. 2016. Biodiversity & Extinction, Part 7 Hominins. Supernova, the mag for curious kids, Pretoria. 5.5 (2016), 34-35.

Lyons, S. et al. (incl. Anderson, J.M.) 2016. Holocene shifts in the assembly of terrestrial plant and animal communities implicate increasing human impacts. Nature. 598(7584), 80–83.

Labandeira, C., Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. (2017 in prep.). Expansion of Arthropod Herbivory in the Late Triassic South Africa: The Molteno Biome. In Lawrence Tanner (ed.) “The Late Triassic”. Springer

Anderson, J.M., Anderson, H.M. & Labandeira, C. (2017 in prep.). Molteno Biodiversity and the Triassic Explosion. In Lawrence Tanner (ed.) “The Late Triassic”. Springer

Anderson, H.M., Barbaka, M., Bamford, M., Holmes, K. & Anderson, J.M. (2017 in prep.) A reassessment of Gondwana Triassic genera and a reclassification of plants incorrectly attributed: Part 1 Umkomasia (megasporophyll). Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.


Anderson, H.M. & Anderson, J.M. 1970. A preliminary review of the biostratigraphy of the uppermost Permian, Triassic and lowermost Jurassic of Gondwanaland. Palaeont. afr. 13: 1-22, charts 1-22 and world map of Permian and Triassic strata.

Anderson, J.M. 1973. The biostratigraphy of the Permian and Triassic. Part 2. A preliminary review of the distribution of Permian and Triassic strata in time and space. Palaeont. afr. 16: 59-83, charts 23-35.


Anderson, J.M. 1977. The biostratigraphy of the Permian and Triassic. Part 3. A review of Gondwana Permian palynology with particular reference to the northern Karoo Basin, South Africa. Mem. Bot. Surv. South Africa, 41: 408 pp.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1983. The Palaeoflora of southern Africa: Molteno Formation (Triassic), Vol.1. Part 1, Introduction; Part 2, Dicroidium. A.A. Balkema, Holland, 227 pp.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1985. The Palaeoflora of southern Africa: Prodromus of southern African megafloras, Devonian to Lower Cretaceous. A.A. Balkema, Holland, 423 pp.

Van Gogh, J. & Anderson, J.M. 1988. Trees and shrubs of the Witwatersrand, Magaliesberg and Pilanesberg. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 112 pp.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 1989. The Palaeoflora of southern Africa: Molteno Formation (Triassic), Vol. 2. The

Gymnosperms (excluding Dicroidium). A.A. Balkema, Holland, 567 pp.

Anderson, J.M. (ed.) 1999. Towards Gondwana Alive: promoting biodiversity and stemming the Sixth Extinction. Gondwana Alive Society, Pretoria, 140 pp.

Anderson, J.M. (ed.) 2001 (revised edition). Towards Gondwana Alive: promoting biodiversity and stemming the Sixth Extinction. Gondwana Alive Society, Pretoria, 140 pp.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. 2003. Heyday of the gymnosperms: systematics and biodiversity of the Late Triassic

Molteno fructifications. Strelitzia 15, National Botanical Institute, Pretoria, 389 pp.

Anderson, J.M., Anderson, H.M. & Cleal, C. 2007. Brief history of the gymnosperms: classification, biodiversity, phytogeography and ecology. Strelitzia 20, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, 280 pp.

Anderson, H.M. & Anderson, J.M. 2008. Molteno ferns: Late Triassic biodiversity in southern Africa. Strelitzia 21, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, 251 pp.

Anderson, H.M. & Anderson, J.M. (2017 in press). Molteno sphenophytes: Late Triassic biodiversity in southern Africa. Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, 377 pp.

SCIENTIFIC BOOKS (MOLTENO FOSSIL PLANTS & INSECTS) IN PREPARATION (5-year plan 2016-2020) The following volumes have still to be completed and published to round off the series on the Late Triassic Molteno Fm.,

Karoo Basin, South Africa. Based on the research to date on collections from 100 ‘localities’ or assemblages, the Molteno appears to represent the heyday of botanical biodiversity in geological time. Dr Conrad Labandeira of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, is the leading authority globally on plant-insect associations through time. He has been working on the Molteno collections for over a decade now.

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. (in prep). Kannaskoppia/Kannaskoppifolia of the Late Triassic Molteno Fm.: an exploration in palaeobotanical speciation. (ca 200 pp, 1st proto-draft complete)

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. (in prep). Molteno non-gymnosperms: mosses, liverworts, lycopods & incertae. (ca 200 pp, 1st proto-draft complete)

Anderson, J.M., Anderson, H,M. & Labandeira, C. (in prep). Molteno gymnosperms: remaining fruit, seeds & foliage (ca 200 pp, 1st proto-draft complete)

Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. (in prep.). Late Triassic Molteno Fm.: overture & overview; flora, fauna, localities, biodiversity, ecology. (ca 250 pp, 1st proto-draft complete)

Bethoux, O., Wapler, T., Labandeira, C. & Anderson, J.M. (in prep.). The insect fauna of the Late Triassic Molteno Fm. (ca 400 pp)

Labandeira, C., Anderson, J.M. & Anderson, H.M. (in prep.). Plant-insect associations of the Molteno Fm: implications for herbivore guild structure in a pre-angiospermous world. (ca 400 pp, manuscript)


The following three multi-contributor books are well advanced (2018 publication aimed for). They are the first in a series of 22 volumes (aimed at publication by Springer-Verlag over the following five years); one for each of the 20 selected ‘Africa Alive corridors’, the last being an ‘Out of Africa’ volume. Each volume will be co-ordinated by an Earth scientist closely associated with the corridor; and will include many authors currently at the forefront of research in their relevant fields.

Anderson, J.M. & de Wit, M.J. eds (in prep.). Africa Alive Corridors: Autobiography of the continent told along 20 corridors.Springer-Verlag, Berlin (ca 450 pp, with over 50 top African & international contributors)

Anderson, J.M. & de Wit, M.J. eds (in prep.). Homo sapiens Corridor: Tracing humankind’s earliest journeys along the southern Cape coast. Springer-Verlag, Berlin (ca 450 pp, with over 50 top South African & international contributors)

Anderson, J.M. & de Wit, M.J. eds (in prep.). 1st-person Short Stories: Following the Homo sapiens Corridor. Springer-Verlag, Berlin (ca 200 pp, with 20 contributors)