Charles Helm was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1957. He graduated with an MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 1981. He moved to Canada in 1986, settled in Tumbler Ridge in northeastern British Columbia in 1992, has practised there since then as a family physician, and is a Fellow of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.
Following the discovery of Cretaceous dinosaur trackways near Tumbler Ridge by his eight-year-old son and a friend in 2000, he was a founding member of the Tumbler Ridge Museum in 2002, and through this organisation he helped establish a local palaeontology research centre, which specialises in ichnology. He has served on the museum board of directors as president, vice-president and secretary. He has made Cretaceous dinosaur trackway discoveries and Triassic fish and marine reptile discoveries. He led the drive for the successful designation of the Tumbler Ridge Unesco Global Geopark. He is the author of nine books, one of which is a book on dinosaurs for children.
He has applied the palaeontological knowledge he acquired in Canada to his native South Africa since 2007, documenting the wealth of Pleistocene fossil trackways that he and his research team have discovered along a 350km stretch of coastline, and has led research publications on these findings. Discoveries include four hominin tracksites and evidence that patterns made in sand by hominins are now preserved in rock surfaces.
He is a research associate with the African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience at Nelson Mandela University, South Africa, where he is currently pursuing his PhD in the Department of Geoscience. He has helped to pioneer the emerging discipline of geomythology in southern Africa. He has given numerous talks on palaeontology, ichnology and geomythology to audiences in Canada and South Africa.
Peer reviewed earth science research articles:
As lead author:
Helm, C.W., Anderson, R.J., Buckley, L.G., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C. 2017. Biofilm enables identification of avian trackways in Late Pleistocene coastal aeolianites, South Africa. Palaeontologia Africana, 52:78–84.
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., Cowling, R.M., De Vynck, J.C., Marean, C.W., McCrea, R.T., Rust, R. 2018. Palaeoecology of giraffe tracks in Late Pleistocene aeolianites on the Cape south coast. South African Journal of Science, 114(1/2), 8 pages, Article number: 2017-0266. Online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2018/20170266
Helm, C.W., McCrea, R.T., Cawthra, H.C., Thesen, G.H.H., Mwankunda, J.M. 2018. Late Pleistocene trace fossils in the Goukamma Nature Reserve, Cape south coast, South Africa. Palaeontologia africana, 52, 89–101.
Helm, C.W., McCrea, R.T., Cawthra, H.C., Cowling, R.M., Lockley, M.G., Marean, C.W., Thesen, G.H.H., Pigeon, T., Hattingh, S. 2018. A new Pleistocene hominin tracksite from the Cape south coast, South Africa. Scientific Reports. Online at: www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22059-5 (accessed 01 March 2018).
Helm, C.W., Benoit, J., Mayor, A., Cawthra, H.C., Penn-Clarke, C.R., Rust. R. 2019. Interest in geological and palaeontological curiosities by southern African non-western societies: A review and perspectives for future study. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pgeola.2019.01.001
Helm, C.W., Lockley, M.G., Cole, K., Noakes, T.D., McCrea, R.T. 2019. Hominin tracks in southern Africa: A review and an approach to identification. Palaeontologia africana, 53, 81–96.
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Lockley, M.G., McCrea, R.T., Venter, J. 2019.
The Pleistocene fauna of the Cape south coast revealed through ichnology at two localities.
South African Journal of Science 115 (1/2), Art. #5135. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2019/5135
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Helm, C.J.Z., Rust, R., Stear, W. 2019. Patterns in the sand: a Pleistocene hominin signature along the South African coastline? Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 130(6), 719–740. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pgeola.2019.08.004
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., Hattingh, R., Hattingh, S., McCrea, R.T., Thesen, G.H.H. 2019. Pleistocene trace fossils of Robberg Nature Reserve. Palaeontologia Africana 54, 36–47. http://wiredspace.wits.ac.za/handle/10539/28633
Helm. C.W., Klenke, P. 2019. On the Measurement of the Earth – New Approaches to our Planet’s Distinctive Shape. Cartographica.54(3), 145–192. https://doi.org/10.3138/cart.54.3.2018-0012
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., Combrink, X., Helm, C.J.Z., Rust, R., Stear, W., Van den Heever, A. 2020. Pleistocene large reptile tracks and probable swim traces on South Africa’s Cape south coast. South African Journal of Science 116(3/4), Art. #6542. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2020/6542
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., Cowling, R.M., De Vynck, J.C., Lockley, M.G., Marean, C.W., Thesen, G.H.H., Venter, J.A. 2020. Pleistocene vertebrate tracksites on the Cape south coast of South Africa and their potential palaeoecological implications. In: Cleghorn, N., Potts, A.J., Cawthra, H.C. (Eds.), The Palaeo-Agulhas Plain: a lost world and extinct ecosystem. Quaternary Science Reviews 235, 105857. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.07.039
Helm, C.W., Lockley, M.G., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Helm, C.J.Z., Thesen, G.H.H. 2020. Large Pleistocene avian tracks on the Cape south coast of South Africa. Ostrich 91(4), 275–291.
Helm, C.W., Lockley, M.G., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Dixon, M.G., Helm, C.J.Z., Thesen, G.H.H. 2020. Newly identified hominin trackways from the Cape south coast of South Africa. South African Journal of Science 116(9/10), Art. #8156. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2020/8156
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Dixon, M., Stear, W. 2021. Elephant tracks – a biogenic cause of potholes in Pleistocene South African coastal rocks. Journal of Coastal Research 37(1), 59–74.
Helm, C.W., Lockley, M.G. 2021. Pleistocene reptile swim traces confirmed from South Africa’s Cape south coast. South African Journal of Science 117(3/4), Art.#8830. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2021/8830
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., Cowling, R.M., De Vynck, J.C., Lockley, M.G., Marean, C.W., Dixon, M.G., Helm, C.J.Z., Stear, W., Thesen, G.H.H., Venter, J.A. 2021. Protecting and preserving South African aeolianite surfaces from graffiti. Koedoe 63(1), a1656. https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v63i1.1656
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Helm. C.J.Z., Rust, R., Stear, W. 2021. Large geometric patterns from the Middle Stone Age in aeolianites on the Cape south coast, South Africa. Rock Art Research 38(1), 10–22.
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Helm. C.J.Z., Rust, R., Stear, W. 2021. Palaeoart on South Africa’s Cape south coast. South African Journal of Art History 35(2), 53–66.
Helm, C.W., Lockley, M.G., Moolman, L., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Dixon, M.G., Stear, W., Thesen, G.H.H. 2021. Morphology of Pleistocene elephant tracks on South Africa’s Cape south coast, and probable elephant trunk drag impressions. Quaternary Research. https://doi.org/10.1017/qua.2021.32
Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Hattingh, R., Lockley, M.G. 2022. Possible Pleistocene hominin tracks from South Africa’s west coast. South African Journal of Science 118(1/2), Art. #11842. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2022/11842
Helm, C.W., Carr, A.S., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Dixon, M., Stear, W., Stuart, C., Stuart, M., Venter, J.A. Possible Pleistocene pinniped ichnofossils on South Africa’s Cape south coast. Journal of Coastal Research.
Helm, C.W., Lockley, M.G., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, Dixon, M.G., Rust, R., Stear, W., Zipfel, B. Could humans have fashioned footwear in the Middle Stone Age?
Feldmann, R.M., Helm, C.W., Lawfild, A.M.W., Schweitzer, C.E. 2021. New Late Cretaceous palinurid (Decapoda: Achelata: Palinuridae) from northeastern British Columbia, Canada. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie 299(2), 149–159. https://doi.org/10.1127/njgpa/2021/0961
Lockley, M.G., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Helm, C.W., McCrea, R.T., Nel, R. 2019. New fossil sea turtle trackway morphotypes from the Pleistocene of South Africa highlight role of ichnology in turtle palaeobiology. Quaternary Research 92, 626–640. https://doi.org/10.1017/qua.2019.40
Lockley, M.G., Abbassi, N., Helm, C/W. 2021. Large, unwebbed bird and bird‐like footprints from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic: a review of ichnotaxonomy and trackmaker affinity. Lethaia 54(5), 969–987. https://doi.org/10.1111/let.12458
Lockley, M.G., Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Perrin, M.R. 2021. Pleistocene golden mole and ‘sand-swimming’ trace fossils from the Cape coast of South Africa. Quaternary Research 101, 169–186. https://doi.org/10.1017/qua.2020.97
Lockley, M.G. Plint, A.G., Helm, C.W., Sharman, K.J., Vannelli, K.M. 2021. Crocodylian swim tracks from the Gates Formation (Albian), British Columbia, Canada: comparisons with Cretaceous crocodilian ichnology in western USA. Cretaceous Research 128, 104967. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cretres.2021.104967
Lockley, M.G., Helm, C.W., Cawthra, H.C., De Vynck, J.C., Dixon, M.G., Venter, J.A. 2022. Pleistocene small mammal and arthropod trackways from the Cape south coast of South Africa. Quaternary Research, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1017/qua.2021.77
McCrea, R.T., Buckley, L.G., Currie, P.J., Plint, A.G., Helm, C.W., Haggart, J.W. 2014. A review of vertebrate track-bearing formations from the Mesozoic and earliest Cenozoic of western Canada with a description of a new theropod ichnospecies and reassignment of an avian ichnogenus. In Lockley, M.G. and S. Lucas (eds.), Tracking dinosaurs and other tetrapods in western North America. New Mexico Museum of Natural History Bulletin.
McCrea, R.T., Tanke, D.H., Buckley, L.G., Lockley, M.G., Farlow, J.O., Xing, L., Matthews, N.A., Helm, C.W., Pemberton, G., Breithaupt, B.H. 2015 Vertebrate Ichnopathology: Pathologies Inferred from Dinosaur Tracks and Trackways from the Mesozoic. Ichnos, 22:3-4, 235-260.
Plint, A.G., Charles W. Helm, C.W., Lockley, M.G. 2022. Crocodylian and dinosaur trace fossil assemblages from crevasse splay/levee and floodplain lake environments: middle Cenomanian Dunvegan Formation, northeast British Columbia, Canada. Historical Biology. https://doi.org/10.1080/08912963.2022.2043294
In addition he has authored 36 peer-reviewed publications in the Canadian Journal of Rural Medicine (available on request).
Awards that are related directly or indirectly to palaeontology include:
- Rene Savenye Award (2011) from the British Columbia Paleontological Alliance, in recognition of contributions to British Columbia palaeontology
- In 2013 a newly described genus of fossil marine reptile, Gulosaurus, was assigned the species name helmi in recognition of his contributions to the discovery and study of Triassic fish and reptile fossils.
- Honorary Degree in Arts, Northern Lights College, British Columbia (2015)
- Best Speaker Award, 2nd International Conference on Continental Ichnology, Nuy, South Africa (2017).
He has also received awards for postgraduate teaching from the University of British Columbia Department of Family Practice, the Walter Smith Visionary Award in recognition of contribution to tourism innovation in northern British Columbia, the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award (2016), the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002), the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), and the Rural Family Physician of the Year Award (2016) from the British Columbia College of Family Physicians.