Friday, June 13, 2008

A trip to the Limpopo Province

As I was growing up no African place name seemed more exotic and remote than Limpopo. Actually the Limpopo Province lies just a few hours north of Johannesburg, yet I had never visited it until this week. This is a pity because as it turns out it is a beautifull place indeed. We were on a quick trip up to the Soutpansberg Range to check out claims of metazoan fossils in the Paleoproterozoic Soutpansberg Group (approx. 1700 million years old).

Sandstones and Conglomerates of the Soutpansberg Group

Such a fossil would exceed the next oldest metazoan fossils by about a billion years, and to say I was sceptical would be an understatement. Nevertheless one has to check these things up, just one day someone may really have found something exceedingly significant - but not this time. Nevertheless although no fossils were found (as expected) the day turned into a lovely natural history outing.
At the very start of the hike we saw a large flock of crested guinea fowl, the much rarer cousin of the ubiquitous helmeted guinea fowl, but I could not get a decent picture (although I did get a new tick for my birdlist). We found evidence for leopards in the form of scratched tree trunks (but no leopards of course!). Here are some other shots I took during our search.

It is well known that everything in Africa has thorns but check out these - you'd swear the thing was predatory!

I also snapped this cute little scarab

A story surrounding this little plant is worth relaying.

This is Khat (Catha edulis), a largely East African and Arabian plant well-known for the amphetamine-like drug it produces. Nevertheless it is growing wild all over the Soutpansberg. The place we were staying at used to be a girls school that was closed down after the students discovered this local plant and Khat-chewing became endemic in the school.
After the Soutpansberg we stopped in at Makapansgat on our way back to Jozi. This is a wonderfull little valley that is famous for its limestone caves, one of which (the Limeminer's Cave) has produced remains of the protohuman Australopithecus africanus

Although there are no obvious australopithecus fossils lying around, you can still see this string of vertebrae, left in the cave roof where an articulated sabre-toothed cat was removed (apparently the specimen is at wits but I haven't seen it).

Lastly to end with the palaeo theme, there wasn't just plio-pleistocene fossils to see. The caves themselves were etched into 2 billion year old dolomites with very nice stromatolite fossils.

1 comment:

Mike Taylor said...

That's not a tree; it's an erect velvet-worm.