Elegant Places

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

West Coast Fossil Park

On our return from a week-end at Rocherpan Nature Reserve 25km North of Velddrif, Western Cape, we decided to explore the West Coast Fossil Park near Langebaan, about 150km north of Cape Town. We had never heard of the park before, but ended spending an interesting couple of hours being educated about the far flung past of the region.

The fossils came to light when SEMANCOR was mining for phosphates, as stated on their website:
The deeply buried fossil deposits were uncovered during phosphate mining in the Langebaanweg area. The mining started in 1943, initially at Baard’s Quarry on Langeberg Farm, close to where the airforce training base is today. Here solid phosphate rock was mined for fertilizer and it is thought that many tons of fossils were crushed up along with the rock before scientists were made aware of their existence.
 Fortunately much is still visible, and it is still an active paeleontological digging site.

First we spent some time in the museum to get an overview of the animals and their skeletons that used to live in the area, about 5 million years ago. The more exotic being; saber-toothed cats, short-necked giraffes, hunting hyenas and African bears, as well as a large selection of birds. The climate was substantially different then, it was wetter and more lush, as shown in these illustrative posters of the flora and fauna as well as the 'event' that created this concentration of land based and marine fossils all mixed in the same layer of sediment:

Poster showing the flora and fauna 5 million years ago, showing the possible cause of the accumation of animalsPoster showing the flora and fauna 5 million years ago

This prepared us to recognise the various bones on display at the dig site.

Entrance to the dig covered by a tunnel with the sieves on the foreground.
When arriving at the dig site, you walk past the sieves where they go through tiny fragments of fossils mixed with sand. You quickly understand how  painstaking the process of  the paleontologists is, to go through tiny fragments of fossilised bone and then manage to identify the animal and the part thereof. A trained eye, or being good at puzzles is a great advantage!

Other view of the sieves

Finally into the tent, where you can see one of the dig sites. Helpful displays show the anatomy of the animals so you can (more easily) recognise the bones in the dig site.

Dig site with displays

The Short-necked Long Horned Giraffe

The Extinct African Bear
And finally some images of the dig site itself. This is where it gets really interesting, and we encourage you to go and see it for yourself!

The Fossil Park website is very thorough and offers much better information, than we could ever dream of writing up. But all I can say is. if you ever are in the area, or if you want an intellectually stimulating activity, the West Coast Fossil Park and their guides come highly reccomended.

If you are looking at a place to stay then stay in Hopefield, at Kersefontein Guest Farm, we'll gladly assist if you wish to stay there.