Home > People > Academic Staff > Robyn Pickering

Dr. Robyn Pickering


  Isotope geochemistry, Quaternary geology

​  Room 208
  Department of Geological Sciences​
  Ph:  +27 (0)21 650 2911
  Fax:  +27 (0)21 650 3783



Publication List

Google Scholar



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) from both South Africa and Australia

Latest Publications

Pickering, R. 2015. Middle – Lower Pleistocene U-Pb ages for buried speleothems from Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa. African Archaeological Review, 32, 645-668.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Green, H., Woodhead, J.D., Hellstrom, J., Pickering, R., Drysdale, R., 2013. Re-analysis of key evidence in the case for a hemispherically synchronous response to the Younger Dryas climatic event. Journal of Quaternary Science, 28, 8-12.          

Pickering, R., Jacobs, Z., Herries, A.I.R., Karkanas, P., Bar-Matthews, M., Woodhead, J.D., Kappen, P., Fisher, E., Marean, C.W., 2013. Paleoanthropologically Significant South African Sea Caves dated to 1.0 Million Years using a combination of U-Pb, TT-OSL and palaeomagnetism. Quaternary Science Reviews, 65, 39-52.            

Woodhead, J.D., Hellstrom, J., Pickering, R., Drysdale, R., Paul, B, Bajo, P. 2012. U and Pb variability in older speleothems and strategies for their chronology. Quaternary Geochronology, 14, 105-113.                                                                

Woodhead, J.D., Pickering, R. 2012. Beyond 500 ka: progress and prospects in the U-Pb chronology of speleothems, and their application to studies in palaeoclimate, human evolution, biodiversity and tectonics. Chemical Geology, 322–323, 290–299.

Pickering, R., Dirks, P.H.G.M., Jinnah, Z., de Ruiter, D.J., Churchill, S.E., Herrires, A.I.R., Woodhead, J.D., Hellstrom, J.C., Berger, L.R. 2011. Australopithecus sediba at 1.977 Ma and implications for the origins of Genus Homo. Science 333, 1421-1423.



  • 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