Dr Robyn Pickering

Senior Lecturer

 Isotope geochemistry, Quaternary geology


I am an isotope geochemist with leanings towards palaeoanthropology and archaeology. My research seeks to understand where and most importantly when our early human ancestors evolved and what the environment they lived in was like. I have spent the last decade developing the U-series technique to date cave rocks, or speleothems, associated with early human (hominin) fossils. I work mainly on the South African early hominin caves sites, as well as being the dating specialist on several large international teams, working on archaeological and palaeoanthropological sites on the southern and western coasts of South Africa, Australia, East Africa, Armenia and the Dominican Republic.

My specific research interests include:

  • Developing the uranium-lead technique applied to cave carbonates (speleothems)

  • Dating early hominin cave sites in the 'Cradle of Humankind', South Africa

  • Unravelling the palaeoenvironmental signals preserved in speleothems, particularly flowstones

  • Pushing back the frontiers of the U-series methods to date pedogenic and laccustrine carbonates

  •  Southern hemisphere records of climate variability recorded in stalagmites (and other carbonates) 

  • Practical ways in which to decolonise geosciences in the classroom, lab and field

Latest Publications

More on: Google Scholar and ResearchGate (Publication List)

  1. Pickering, R. 2015. Middle – Lower Pleistocene U-Pb ages for buried speleothems from Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa. African Archaeological Review, 32, 645-668.
  2. Rosenberger, A.L., Pickering, R., Green, H., Cooke, S.B., Tallman, M., Morrow, A. Rimoli, R. 2015. 1.3±0.11 Ma ages for underwater remains constrain antiquity and longevity of Dominican primate Antillothrix bernensis, Journal of Human Evolution, 88, 85-96.
  3. Hellstrom, J., Pickering, R. 2015. Recent advances and future prospects of the U-Th and U-Pb dating applicable to archaeology, Journal of Archaeological Science, 56, 32-40.
  4. Green, H., Pickering, R, Drysdale, R., Johnson, B., Wallace, M., Hellstrom, J. 2015. Evidence for global teleconnections in a late Pleistocene speleothem record of water balance and vegetation change at Sudwala Cave, South Africa, Quaternary Science Reviews, 110, 114-130.
  5. Braun, D.R., Levin, N.E., Stynder, D., Herries, A.I.R., Archer, W., Forrest, F., Roberts, D.L., Bishop, L.C., Matthews, T., Lehmann, S.B., Pickering, R., Fitzsimmons, K., 2013. Mid-Pleistocene Hominin occupation at Elandsfonein, Western Cape, South Africa, Quaternary Science Reviews, 82, 145-166.


Courses Lectured

  • GEO1006S: general introduction to geology, minerals, crystals, rocks and palaeontology 

  • GEO3001S: chemostratigraphy, isotope geochemistry, palaeoclimatology, climate change

  • GEO4000W: Quaternary Geology

Graduated Students

1. Marie Scott, MSc (2019) 2. Wendy Khumalo, MSc (2022)
3. Rebekah Kurpiel, PhD (2018) 4. Tara Edwards, PhD (2020)
5. Loyce Mpangala, Hons. (2022) 6. Aidan Wilton, Hons (2021)
7. Sinethemba Ncetani, Hons (2021)  8. Batande Getyengana, Hons (2020)
9. Wendy Khumbalo, Hons (2019) 10. Phakama Khuzwayo, Hons (2019)



  • Ph.D; Dr.phil.-nat., summa cum laude, University of Bern, Geology, 2009
  • M.Sc., with distinction, University of the Witwatersrand, Geology, 2005
  • B.Sc. Hons, 1st class, University of the Witwatersrand, Geology & Palaeontology, 2002
  • B.Sc., with distinction, University of the Witwatersrand, Geology & Archaeology, 2001


  • Lecturer, University of Cape Town, 2016 onwards
  • ARC DECRA Post Doctoral Fellow, University of Melbourne, Australia, 2012-2015
  • McKenzie Post Doctoral Fellow, University of Melbourne, Australia, 2010-2012
  • Swiss National Science Foundation Post Doctoral Fellow, University of Melbourne, Australia, 2009-2010
  • Post Doctoral Fellowship (declined), University of Bergen, Norway, 2009-2011

Scholarships, Fellowships and Sponsorships Awarded

  • NRF - African Origins Platform, 2016-2018
  • NRF Incentive Funding for Rated Scientists, 2016-2021
  • Australian Research Council – Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), 2012-2015
  • National Science Foundation Archaeology Collaborative Research, co-investigator, 2012-2015
  • Australian Academy of Science Travel Award, 2012.
  • INQUA (International Union for The Quaternary) international travel prize, 2011.
  • University of Melbourne, McKenzie Post-Doctoral Fellowship, 2011-2013
  • Swiss National Science Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship, 2009-2010      
  • Palaeontology Scientific Trust (PAST) Travel Award, 2004            
  • NRF Mobility Grant x2, 2003, 2004
  • NRF Scare Skills MSc Bursary. 2003-2004  
  • PAST MSc Bursary, 2003-2004       
  • PAST Travel Award (visiting student at the Australian National University), 2003                     

Awards and academic honours

  • NRF P rating, University of Cape Town, 2016-2021
  • Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research, University of Melbourne, 2013
  • Invited to the Prime Minister’s Science Awards Dinner, Canberra, 2012, 2013
  • Top 100 most influential people in Melbourne, The Age Newspaper, 2010
  • Best poster prize, Swiss Quaternary Society meeting, Bern, Switzerland, 2009
  • Prize for 2nd best poster, 97th Geologische Vereinigung, Bremen, Germany, 2007
  • Corstorphine Medal, John Handley Award, best MSc thesis, GSSA, 2005