New resort to be constructed at Mile 14January 16, 2017
A ‘living laboratory’ at OngavaJanuary 17, 2017
Text Bill Torbitt
FOSSILISED TREE TRUNKS
An interesting find was made in 2012 in Etosha National Park. Tiny, speck-sized, vase-shaped, sponge-like fossils were unearthed in rocks up to 760 million years old. Although tiny, they are officially classed as animals rather than bacteria, so simple animal life appeared a hundred million years earlier than previously thought!
And near Khorixas is the Petrified Forest – actually a collection of fossilised tree trunks of giant gymnosperms, ancestors of modern conifers and ferns, seemingly blown down from a remote forest and washed to their present location, where they became covered with sand and petrified. They too are over 200 million years old!
THE GONDWANA SUPERCONTINENT
About 130 million years ago the African continent was joined to South America in the Gondwanaland continental land mass. Evidence of this was found in 1988 on the farm Spitzkoppe, about 150 km north-east of Keetmanshoop. The farmer had come upon a beautiful fossil specimen of a small dinosaur, which was identified as Mesosaurus, and was almost identical to examples found in Brazil. Mesosaurus was a small, half-meter-long aquatic animal with webbed, paddle-like feet, faintly resembling a modern dolphin.
It was a peaceful creature, probably a ‘filter feeder’, living in or on the shores of the archaic Gai-as Lake, which straddled today’s Namibia and Brazil. You can still clearly see the nostrils, vertebrae and hands of the creature, after the unimaginable time span of 200 million years.
THE OTJIHAENAMAPARERO DINOSAUR TRACKS
One of Namibia’s well-known and definitely intriguing tourist attractions is the collection of dinosaur footprints found on the farm Otjihaenamaparero near Mount Etjo, 200 km north of Windhoek. They consist of two crossing tracks of more than 30 imprints, about 12 to 15 cm in length and 80 cm apart, as well as other tracks made by a different smaller animal, comprising imprints of about 7 cm in length and spaced about 28 to 33 cm apart. All the tracks appear to have been made by a three-toed, clawed foot, probably by the hind feet of a bipedal animal, and laid down in thick mud. They were then almost immediately covered by windblown sand, which later solidified into rock, over 200 million years old.
EXIT THE DINOSAURS
Up to 65 million years ago, dinosaurs dominated life on earth. You can only reflect on the hugely unlikely event of a rock with a diameter of 10 km suddenly appearing from outer space and obliterating them, leaving only the tiny mouse-like animals from which we evolved. If this had not happened, we might all have pointed heads and long green spiny tails, awkward for sitting in an office chair! But the dinosaurs, although having magnificent physiques, were not strong in the brains department, so that intelligent life may never have developed.
A LITTLE-KNOWN ‘GEM’
The Geological Museum of Namibia – situated close to Eros Airport in southern Windhoek – has substantial mineralogy exhibits and a fascinating palaentology section.
Among the objects on display are a life-sized model of the large, early dinosaur Massospondylus, about 200 million years old, whose fossil was discovered on the Waterberg Plateau Park in 1999; an almost complete fossilised skeleton of the previously mentioned Mesosaurus; early reptiles, actually the ancestors of the dinosaurs, Kannemeyeria and Erythrosuchus, found in 1992; a skull of a 100 000-year-old early example of Homo sapiens – the ‘Orange River man’; and stromatolites – ‘living rocks’ dating back about 700 million years!
This article was first published in the Flamingo September 2012 issue.