The little rural town of Cornelia was founded in 1918 and named in honour of Cornelia Reitz who was the wife of President Francis William Reitz of the then Orange Free State. It is a centre for livestock and maize farming.
Cornelia is renowned for its archaeological importance and its rich fossil sites. Ten kilometers north of Cornelia on the banks of the Skoonspruit, lies one of the most significant fossil sites in the Free State. Isaac Hipkin, the owner of the farm Uitzoek, on which the site lies, had been aware of the fossils since his boyhood but only in 1930 was their value appreciated when Dr E. C. N. van Hoepen of the National Museum in Bloemfontein was shown the front portions of a horse-like creature's mandible containing only four incisors instead of the usual six. The creature was named Eurygnathohippus cornelianus.
Large scale excavations were undertaken at the site and the National Museum secured its collection of Cornelia fossils.
Among these fossils are those of pigs, including one the size of a small donkey, many species of extinct antelope, a giant buffalo, an extinct sub-species of hippo, four new species of horse and many stone tools left by ancient man.
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