Stories and Traveltips

ID #4830

African Time, Southern Africa.

Western society is obsessed with time. This obsession is not shared by Africans, to the frustration of their European counterparts. Perhaps the environment has something to do with it. 

I have a cycad in my garden that, I am reliably informed, is 800 years old. Many baobab trees and welwitschia plants are 2000-3000 years old. Fishermen were fishing with bronze hooks in Knysna 3000 years ago, and with bone hooks in the Kalahari (the inland lake that has since dried up) 20000 years ago. Bushman rock art is found in many parts of the region. It is older than the Bible, Moses and the pyramids. It is the oldest written record of human habitation on the planet! There is an iron ore mine in Swaziland that is 43000 years old – the oldest mine in the world. There are Strandloper middens along the coast that are 50000 years old and the banks of the Vaal River near Barkly West have been inhabited for 500000 years.  The Wonderwerk Cave near Kuruman has been inhabited by humans for 800000 years and it is probably the oldest inhabited place on earth! The two wildebeest species – the black and the blue wildebeest (brindled gnu) diverged as species 700000 years ago. More hominid fossils have been discovered at Sterkfontein Caves than at all other such sites put together.  Dr Ron Clarke recently discovered an entire hominid skeleton estimated to be over 3 million years old. Moreover, Sterkfontein is only one of several such sites.

But there is more.  The coelacanth caught off the Chalumna River near East London was thought to have become extinct when the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago. Interestingly a viable population was recently discovered in Jesser Canyon off Sodwana Bay. The Karoo in particular is rich in the fossils of dinosaurs that roamed the earth 250 million years ago. The cycad in my garden is from a primitive plant species that was common 300 million years ago. It reached its peak in biodiversity when dinosaurs, from which mammals evolved here between 200 and 500 million years ago, roamed the earth. Fossilised plant algae (stromatolites) found at Makapansgat in Limpopo Province were alive 700 million years ago.

And still more! A giant meteorite struck the earth at Vredefort about 2000 million years ago. It is the largest, oldest and best-preserved impact site on earth. Incidentally, some believe that this event is linked to the development of oxygen as well as multi-cellular life on earth! Lastly, the grandfather of them all – rocks near Barberton are known to be amongst the oldest on earth. They have been carbon-dated at about 3500 million years old. The oldest dateable rock on earth is in Messina. Its age is estimated to be 3850 million years – the beginning of time (the earth was just a molten blob before that!)

So….when you visit Southern Africa, bear in mind that this is an ancient land -- in fact it is the most ancient land on earth. Some (quite rightly) have a very different perspective on this issue than is encountered in western society. It may not necessarily be better but it certainly is different. And, incidentally, time is on their side! Alan McIver AVAfrican

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Last update: 2014-03-28 08:10
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.1

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