Change the world


Reasons to be Proud #R2bP: Asithandile Ntsondwa’s academic journey, which began in Mthatha, followed by undergraduate and postgraduate science qualifications at Mandela University, will culminate with a PhD study in Anthropology at New York University (NYU).


The soon to be 24-year-old PhD candidate will research interdisciplinary archaeological anthropology at NYU from 2025, drawing from fields within both the sciences and the humanities.

“Throughout my education path, I have been intrigued by the interconnectedness of our world.

“Hence, for my undergrad studies, I chose to do a Bachelor of Sciences in Environmental Sciences, which incorporated various modules from four disciplines, namely, Botany, Zoology, Geography, and Geology”, says Asithandile.

From left, Dr Lynn Quick, Asithandile Ntsondwa and Professor Marc Humphries outside Boomplaas Cave; Asithandile in the field and Asithandile and Dr Quick analysing her MSc charcoal results in the Palaeoecology laboratory.

The appointment of Dr Lynne Quick at the Botany Department as the head of the Palaeoecology laboratory sparked the research interest of a young Asithandile.

She then worked on reconstructing fire histories using sedimentary charcoal.

Similarly, her interest lies in studying the role of fire as one of the key evolutionary tools of our planet’s history from an anthropogenic and environmental perspective. 

“My honours degree in Botany was an instrumental introduction to palaeoecological fieldwork, research methods, and theory.

“The honours project also allowed me to explore the relationship between fire, climate, and humans,” says Asithandile.

Asithandile then became interested in studying fire dynamics, probing what small angular pieces of charcoal reveal about our history.

This led to her Master of Sciences (MSc) entitled “Reconstructing the fire history and palaeoenvironment at Thyspunt, southern Cape coast, Eastern Cape”.

The study looked at using charcoal and geochemical analyses, for example, to reveal information about fire histories, change in climate, and geological histories.

Asithandile’s studies as an MSc student at the Palaeoecology laboratory exposed her to a host of opportunities and the chance to work with renowned researchers in South Africa and around the world.

From left, Dr Quick and Prof Justin Pargeter, the Boomplaas Cave and the Palaeoecology laboratory research group.

“I worked with Dr Quick, Dr Saul Manzano (University of Leon, Spain) and Professor Marc Humphries (University of Witwatersrand), who all have pushed me to be a well-rounded MSc candidate”.

“I was also a student volunteer for the ongoing archaeological research being conducted at Boomplaas Cave in Oudtshoorn, where I worked with the project leader Prof Justin Pargeter from New York University” says Asithandile.

Her participation at the research conducted at Boomplaas made an impression on Prof Pargeter, who urged her to stay and work at the site for longer.

This led to him suggesting that she apply at NYU to pursue a PhD, which he would supervise alongside Dr Quick, who has supervised Asithandile since her undergraduate degree.

“Her PhD study aims to explore connections between climate and human resource use and adaptations within the context of the Boomplaas archaeological site,” says Dr Quick.

“Her work will be truly multidisciplinary – bringing together Palaeoecology, Ecology, Archaeology, and Anthropology”.

This project represents a critical new research direction that will significantly enhance and complement the ongoing multidisciplinary and multinational work at Boomplaas Cave, more broadly, within the Greater Cape Floristic Region (GCFR).

“A PhD in Anthropology from New York University will equip me with the necessary knowledge, skills, and resources to develop my research career further and be a meaningful contributor to South African palaoscience” says Asithandile.

Dr Quick says that fortunately Asithandile, through her appointment at NYU, will still be conducting her PhD research in collaboration with her, and she will be based at the Palaeolab for a portion of her degree.

She added that she has never come across a more hard-working, dedicated student that has risen above many personal and academic challenges.

“And despite her many accomplishments, she remains humble, and is a pleasure to work with,” says Dr Quick.

Reflecting on the strides she has made, Asithandile says “every step of my journey, from the people I have met to the schools I have attended, and every achievement (no matter how small) has shaped me into the person I am and continue to be”.

Additionally, “if you want something: work hard, persevere, and believe. Your background and failures should not restrict your dreams. Continue to dream, but don’t forget to wake up and work on making those dreams a reality”.

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160