West Coast Fossil Park

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West Coast Fossil Park

must see places in South Africa that Which raises curiosity and imagination.
  There is bewildering clamour about climate change these days. Spoiler alert it’s true and it’s accelerating, but it’s complicated.Take the Cape West Coast, for example.
  There is bewildering clamou about climate change these days. Spoiler alert: it’s true and it’s accelerating, but it’s complicated. Take the Cape West Coast, for example.
  Around 10 million years ago it was covered by subtropical lowland forest. Then things started to cool down: the main cause of that was the final separation of South America and Antarctica, which set up  a powerful gyre around the southern hemisphere and led to the general cooling of Earth.
  By around five million yeears ago, the Cape West Coast was  a grassland woodland mosaic with the forerunners of fynbos just emerging. Scientists can tell this from microscopic pollen grain fossils found there (even if Donald Trump wouldn’t believe it). Pollens and their receptors are like keys and locks: each kind is unique and fits only into its own kind.
  In 1958, local bone doctors got wind of something unusual going on at a phosphate mine in a place called Langebaanweg, about an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. Professor Ronald Singer from UCT’s medical school visited the place and  was shown some of the old  bones: one turned out to be the fossilised tooth fragment from some sort of elephant; another an ankle bone of a giraffe like creature.
  When the ‘ologists’ got stuck in with their buckets and spades, the site known as E Quarry yielded fossil bones of many mammals, birds and marine animals virtually all of them now extinct.The vast  majority were frog bones tiny leg bones, scapulas and vertebrae each the size of a lentil.The assemblage suggested it had once been  the estuary of a large river.
  Those first two inauspicious looking fossil fragments were just the tip of a palaeontological iceberg that eventually proved to be the largest compilation of fossils from any one site in South Africa, and one of the largest of its kind in the world.
  It is also one of only a very few fossil sites on our planet where you can see the bones of animals that died and were turned to stone right before your eyes (so to speak).
  Old teeth can reveal an awful lot about who they belonged to and what they did. From a single tooth you can determine how big the creature was, how old it was, what it ate, which in turn informs you about its natural environment (or sometimes who murdered it). The tooth identified by singer turned out to be from a protoelephant with four tusks.This gomphothere was named Anacus and was the forerunner of all modern elephants, including the mammoths.
  The ankle bone came from a sivathere, a giant, short necked, long horned giaffe.The remains of 517 individual  sivatheres identified from E Quarry tell us they were  probably the most numerous  of the large mammals.
  One third of all mammal remains found were carnivores, most notably two species of sabre tooths.They in turn opened a big niche for scavengers, including five species of now extinct hyenas that fed off the fat o the land.
  While the sivatheres were impressive enough, the largest grazers were ancestors of our white rhinos. And then there was the African bear, Agriotherium africanum, significantly larger than today's polar bears; the only bear or remains of one ever found in Africa.
  But few people came to see them, until the Lotto donated a big pot of cash.An impressive and wonderfully modern and whimsical in parts exhibition and interpretive centre was completed late last year.
  The life size sculptures were rendered from waste wood by sculptor Egon Tania using mainly a chainsaw.There’s an underground cavern where you’ll feel like a miniaturised Alice in Gondwanaland who has fallen into a wire and rubber termitarium where everything is magnified 150 times.

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