South African origins of humanity expert

Phillip V. Tobias, a South African paleoanthropologist who was a leading expert on the prehistoric origins of humanity, died June 7 in Johannesburg after a long illness. He was 86.

Tobias, who was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize and won many other honors, taught for decades at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.

He was also an outspoken critic of apartheid and lifelong advocate of human rights and academic freedom.

“We have lost a renowned scientist, a scholar and a unique human being,” South African President Jacob Zuma said in a statement. “Our country remains eternally proud of his work.”  

Tobias worked closely with Louis and Mary Leakey, pioneers in the discovery of the fossilized remains of ancient species believed to be the evolutionary precursors of human beings.

He was also actively involved with the Jewish community and received the South African Jewish Board of Deputies Human Rights award in 2001. — jta