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As You Rise, Raise Others with You with Dr. Keneiloe Molopyane (Episode #171)

Do you remember your childhood dreams, when you aimed to be something audacious? Back when Dr. Keneiloe Molopyane was watching cartoons, she declared that she would one day be the first South African, black, female archeologist—and now she is! Her story is inspiring in so many ways. Not only is she working in the famous Cradle of Humankind, she has also earned the distinction of being a National Geographic Explorer.



About Our Guest:

Dr. Keneiloe Molopyane is a truly inspiring person who has dedicated her life to unearthing the secrets of our ancestors and advancing our understanding of our humanity. She is an archaeologist and biological anthropologist based at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and her journey in academia is a testament to her passion and dedication to unraveling the mysteries of our past. 

Dr. Molopyane’s publications have earned her recognition and respect from peers worldwide, and she continues to inspire and nurture aspiring young scholars. Her contributions extend beyond her research, however; She is deeply committed to mentoring the next generation of anthropologists, and inspiring children to follow their dreams. She is also inspiring ordinary people, like all of us, to follow our own passions, so that we too can enjoy lives well-lived. 

What sets Dr. Keneiloe Molopyane apart is her ability to have sustained and followed her earliest vision and goals for herself. What we can learn from her inspiring story is that many of the choices she made involved incredible courage, but we can also learn to summon that courage when we need it. 

Her excavation experience has earned her an  expertise in underwater archaeology, as well as composure needed to clamor into impossibly deep unexplored caves—both incredibly daunting tasks. The courage she summoned to tackle those two chapters in her life allowed Keneiloe to serve as the lead excavator of the Dragon’s Back Chamber at the Rising Star Cave system in the Cradle of Humankind—a famous paleoanthropological site in South Africa. She is also the Principle Investigator for Gladysvale Cave, one of the paleoanthropological sites in the Greater Cradle Nature Reserve. 

In this interview, we talk about how we can:

  • Drill down to some of our earliest childhood interests to find purpose and meaning in our lives now. 
  • Raise others up with us as we rise.
  • Look for the possible mentors and supporters in our lives at any age—and realize that they might not be where we might expect them! 
  • Raise children who follow their unique passions to great success, even when we don’t personally share those passions.
  • Make choices that seem scary, or like a sidetrack—those choices can become the very doors that open on the path to achieving our vision.

In addition to her academic pursuits, Dr. Molopyane is known for her dedication to promoting positive change in society. She believes that understanding our shared human heritage can foster unity and respect among diverse communities, and through public lectures, workshops, and collaborations with museums, she makes anthropology accessible to a wider audience, bridging the gap between science and the public.

She’s also involved in a project called the SuperScientists that creates superhero trading chards of real scientists, to inspire young scientists to follow their dreams. Her trading card, as well as trading cards of many other amazing and inspiring SuperScientists, can help show kids how cool science can be!

Dr. Keneiloe Molopyane’s expertise lies in a fascinating field; she meticulously finds and examines the skeletal remains of our ancestors from twenty, thirty, or even hundreds of thousands of years ago. Her keen sense of observation allows her to reconstruct the lifestyles, health, and behaviors, giving us a glimpse into our shared history—a history that can help us make better decisions in our times. 

Her journey is a testament to the power of scientific inquiry, and her unwavering dedication to advancing knowledge and fostering positive change leaves an indelible mark on the world of anthropology, and on the rich tapestry of human evolution.

References Mentioned:


  • 00:00 – Intro & Welcome
  • 03:06 – Inspirations & Archaeology Pursuit
  • 07:22 – From Student to Archaeological Leader
  • 11:09 – New Grounds in Paleoarchaeology
  • 14:10 – Challenges & Leadership in Science
  • 18:05 – Risks of Cave Explorations
  • 26:22 – Cradle of Humankind vs. Mankind
  • 33:38 – Break
  • 36:20 – Character Building
  • 40:50 – Super Scientist Project: Inspiring the Future
  • 46:00 – Mentorship’s Role in Growth
  • 50:19 – Building Future of Science & Leadership
  • 53:24 – Closing

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