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Guglielmo Martinaglia: 6 September 1857-5 January 1929

By 29th August 2018September 17th, 2018Articles

Technology can be a wonderful thing! It allows museums to extend their reach far beyond the boundaries of their concrete walls, reaching a limitless number of people! Recently we wrote about the replica skull of Mrs Ples, the original of which was discovered in the Sterkfontein Caves. The article was read by the grandchild of the very person who discovered the Sterkfontein Caves, who then made contact with us!

Prospector and geologist, Guglielmo Martinaglia and his wife, Maria Magdalena du Plooy

Prospector and geologist, Guglielmo Martinaglia and his wife, Maria Magdalena du Plooy

Guglielmo Martinaglia came to South Africa from his home country of Italy in 1879. Landing in Durban, Martinaglia found himself in the midst of the Anglo-Zulu War, so decided to make his way to Kimberley, the diamond town. With experience with the explosives used in the construction of roads and the mining of gold and diamonds, Martinaglia was well equipped to mine the land he leased in Zwartkrans in 1896. He lay explosives in the hope of finding limestone, and when the dust settled, he couldn’t believe his eyes! In front of him was a large dark hole on the side of the hill, the opening to a mysterious cave. Turning to his eight-year-old son, Martinaglia declared “I’ve discovered a wonder hole!” Looking into the cave, the father and son saw an interior of white stalactites and stalagmites, and venturing further into the cave, an underground river system.

It would be many years before the skull of Mrs Ples would be discovered, which would lead to many other historic excavations, but the story of Guglielmo Martinaglia and the Sterkfontein Caves doesn’t end there. In 1933, Martinaglia’s son, Giovanni, himself a scientist, returned to the Sterkfontein Caves to collect specimens, which he then submitted to the Imperial Institute of Entomology in England for identification. On the 21st June 1933 the Institute reported that the flies submitted by Giovanni belonged to two species of Streblidae, Nycteribosca Africana and Raymondia Planiceps. The museum had only ever previously received two specimens of the former. The latter was a new discovery for the British Museum! And so the adventures of the Martinaglias continued…

Images courtesy of and



  • Andre Martinaglia says:

    Thank you for publishing my grandfather’s story I really apprevciate it!

  • Durban Local History Museums says:

    It’s an absolute pleasure Andre. Thank you for making contact with Durban Local History Museums – it’s always great to have public participation!

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