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Professor Robert Broom FRS (30 November 1866, Paisley – 6 April 1951) was a Scottish South African doctor and paleontologist. He qualified as a medical practitioner in 1895 and received his DSc in 1905 from the University of Glasgow. In 1893 he married Mary Baird Baillie.
From 1903 to 1910 he was professor of zoology and geology at Victoria College, Stellenbosch, South Africa, and subsequently he became keeper of vertebrate paleontology at the South African Museum, Cape Town.
Broom was first known for his study of mammal-like reptiles. After Raymond Dart's discovery of the Taung Child, an infant australopithecine, Broom's interest in paleoanthropology was heightened. Broom's career seemed over and he was sinking into poverty, when Dart wrote to Jan Smuts about the situation. Smuts exerting pressure on the South African government, managed to obtain a position for Broom, in 1934 with the staff of the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria as an Assistant in Palaeontology.
In the following years, he and John T. Robinson made a series of spectacular finds, including fragments from six hominids in Sterkfontein, which they named Plesianthropus transvaalensis, popularly called Mrs. Ples, but which was later classified as an adult Australopithecus africanus, as well as more discoveries at sites in Kromdraai and Swartkrans. In 1937, Broom made his most famous discovery of Paranthropus robustus. These discoveries helped support Dart's claims for the Taung species.
The remainder of Broom's career was devoted to the exploration of these sites and the interpretation of the many early hominid remains discovered there. For his volume, The South Africa Fossil Ape-Men, The Australopithecinae, in which he proposed the Australopithecinae subfamily, Broom was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1946. He continued to write to the very last. Shortly before his death he finished a monograph on the Australopithecines and remarked to his nephew:
Broom was a nonconformist and was deeply interested in the paranormal and spiritualism, he was a critic of Darwinism and materialism. Broom was a believer in spiritual evolution. In his book The Coming of Man: Was it Accident or Design? (1933) he claimed that "spiritual agencies" had guided evolution as animals and plants were too complex to have arisen by chance. According to Broom, there were at least two different kinds of spiritual forces, and psychics are capable of seeing them. Broom claimed there was a plan and purpose in evolution and that the origin of Homo sapiens is the ultimate purpose behind evolution. According to Broom "Much of evolution looks as if it had been planned to result in man, and in other animals and plants to make the world a suitable place for him to dwell in.
Among hundreds of articles contributed by him to scientific journals, the most important include:
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