Woodpecker fossil named for Mandela on eve of his birthday

July 17, 2012
The science world has added an unusual tribute to the long list of accolades bestowed on Nelson Mandela, pictured in 2008, naming a prehistoric woodpecker after South Africa's first black president, who turns 94 Wednesday.

The science world has added an unusual tribute to the long list of accolades bestowed on Nelson Mandela, naming a prehistoric woodpecker after South Africa's first black president, who turns 94 Wednesday.

The anti-apartheid icon has already seen his name conferred on a species of spider, a nuclear particle, an American rescue dog, a tree, several sub-groups of flower, numerous race horses and a flat in a television sitcom.

The latest on the list is Australopicus nelsonmandelai, a species whose remains were unearthed by French and at the Langebaanweg fossil site on South Africa's southwest coast.

This is not just any old woodpecker -- it is the oldest type ever found on the African continent.

"We have named the new species after Nelson Mandela -- a sort of scientific present for his 94th birthday," said Albrecht Manegold from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt.

Australopicus nelsonmandelai is believed to have lived in the early Pliocene period about five to three million years ago. It was related to woodpecker species alive in the Americas and Eurasia today, and not to those found in Africa.

"The new taxon represents a previously unknown fourth lineage of African woodpeckers of Eurasian origin that probably became isolated on the as a result of environmental changes," said a report on the find published in the .

The scientists said their find provided evidence for the theory that the Langebaanweg area, now dominated by a type of shrubland vegetation known as fynbos, had been a riverine forest in the Pliocene period.

Mandela, jailed for 27 years by the apartheid South African government for his fight against its racist policies, has had hundreds of structures and awards named after him in his home country and the rest of the continent as well as Europe, the Americas and Asia.

They include streets, municipalities, bridges, squares, parks and gardens... even a landfill site in Guyana, according to a website run by Mandela's charitable foundation.

Mandela is unlikely to attend any of the host of celebrations being held in his honour on Wednesday, as the frail Nobel peace prize-winner has increasingly vanished from the public eye.

Last week, President Jacob Zuma described him as being in "good health".

Explore further: Google to digitise Mandela archives

Related Stories

Google to digitise Mandela archives

March 8, 2011

The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Google Tuesday said they have begun digitising thousands of previously unseen Mandela files to make them available online.

Mandela's vast personal archives brought online

March 27, 2012

Thousands of handwritten documents, photographs and videos of Nelson Mandela have been digitised and placed online Tuesday in a massive archive of the life of South Africa's first black president.

Eminent South African anthropologist Tobias dies

June 7, 2012

(AP) — Anthropologist Phillip Tobias, internationally renowned as an authority on human evolution and remembered for his love of humanity, died Thursday, South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand said. He was 86.

S. African officials use Twitter for Mandela news

February 26, 2012

Nelson Mandela's health scares send Twitter into overdrive, but South African officials made savvier use of social media to keep the world informed on the global icon's latest medical woe.

Study: African fruit is untapped resource

January 31, 2008

A report suggests native African fruits are an untapped resource that could help combat malnutrition and boost rural development on the African continent.

WikiLeaks' Assange awarded top Sydney peace prize

May 11, 2011

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was Wednesday awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation's top honour for "exceptional courage in pursuit of human rights", joining the likes of Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

Recommended for you

New paper answers causation conundrum

November 17, 2017

In a new paper published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, SFI Professor Jessica Flack offers a practical answer to one of the most significant, and most confused questions in evolutionary ...

Chance discovery of forgotten 1960s 'preprint' experiment

November 16, 2017

For years, scientists have complained that it can take months or even years for a scientific discovery to be published, because of the slowness of peer review. To cut through this problem, researchers in physics and mathematics ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.