Interested in dinosaurs, strange species, history and want to know where to go to unleash your inner-Indiana Jones?
South Africa of course!
Did you know that the abundance of fossils in South Africa makes it a paradise of paleontological sites? It is believed that South Africa is home to more than 80% of the world’s early mammalian fossils. And the semi-arid Karoo region is internationally known for its high record of fossil therapsid ‘mammal-like’ reptiles. Also known as a group called Synapsida. In fact, it was the skull – found in South Africa of 1838 in the Karoo – that convinced paleontologists that mammals evolved from reptiles. And what did the mammal-like reptile look like? It had two large tusk-life teeth in its upper jaw.
The fossils in South Africa date back to millions of years ago. South Africa was once part of the supercontinent of Gondwana and therefore it is the gateway for scientists to understand early evolutionary history. Apart from primitive tools and rock art indicating signs of early human inhabitants, there were some interesting mammals as well. Sabre-tooth cats were the distant cousin of the lion. There was the giant hyena, which is 25% larger than the hyena we know today. And bears and short-neck giraffes also walked the earth. As did dinosaurs. Can you just imagine what a safari must have been like a few hundred thousand years ago?
With the discovery of Australopithecus Sediba, Minister Naledi Pandor made a statement at a press conference. She said: “No other country in the world can boast the oldest evidence of life on earth extending back more than 3 billion years. The oldest multi-cellular animals, the oldest land-living plants, the most distant ancestors of dinosaurs, the most complete record of the more than 80 million year ancestry of mammals, and together with several other African countries, a most remarkable record of human origins and of human achievements through the last eight million years.”
The abundance of fossils in South Africa makes one want to explore more and dig a little bit deeper. Luckily, there are plenty of places where all these remarkable historic finds have been preserved over the years.
There are several places to visit and discover the fossils in South Africa, from Cape Town all the way to the city of gold, Johannesburg.
Let’s start in Cape Town. At West Coast Fossil Park you can see excavations in progress and fossils of animals that walked the earth 5 million years ago. Iziko Museum, also in Cape Town, has many fossils, some are 700 million years old. In Golden Gate National Park, close to Clarens, you can go on a dinosaur hunt and see trace prints. The Karoo is home to Ganora Fossil Museum and the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre in the town of Nieu Bethesda. And last but certainly not least is the Cradle of Humankind and the Sterkfontein Caves. The sites are about an hour from Johannesburg and take you through the journey of time. The award-winning and interpretive Maropeng Visitor Centre has interactive displays and fossils, while hominid and other animal fossils have been found in the caves.