N2 con­struc­tion stum­bles upon ex­cit­ing fos­sils

CityPress - - News - PHUMELELE BHENGU news@city­press.co.za

Some may be happy about the South African Na­tional Roads Agency’s planned con­struc­tion along the N2, while oth­ers may be seething. But this week its work­ers ac­ci­den­tally ex­ca­vated new plant and in­ver­te­brate species, open­ing an­other chap­ter in the coun­try’s palaeon­to­log­i­cal his­tory.

San­ral’s con­struc­tion site un­cov­ered a num­ber of plant fos­sils of the great Devo­nian era in an an­cient river mouth ecosys­tem be­tween Gra­ham­stown and Fish River in the Eastern Cape.

“This is a sig­nif­i­cant dis­cov­ery for South African palaeon­tol­o­gists as many an­cient species have not yet been doc­u­mented,” said Dr Robert Gess, a renowned palaeon­tol­o­gist from the Albany Museum in Gra­ham­stown.

The fos­sil re­mains were part of a marine coast­line en­vi­ron­ment from when South Africa still be­longed to the su­per­con­ti­nent Gond­wana, nearly 360 mil­lion years ago, Gess said. The fos­sils dif­fered from the closed la­goon ecosys­tem of Water­loo Farm – a her­itage site also of the Devo­nian pe­riod, which is 20km from the new ex­ca­va­tion, he said.

This dis­cov­ery brings ex­cit­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties to the coun­try’s palaeon­tol­ogy field. “Through this dis­cov­ery, we are able to trace a much broader pic­ture of life along an an­cient coast­line.”

Parts of the col­lected re­mains in­clude a shrub­sized Iri­dopterid plant. Though some Iri­dopter­alians were also lo­cated at Water­loo Farm and some at the new fos­sil ex­ca­va­tion site, they are dif­fer­ent. Both, how­ever, are un­de­scribed species. A num­ber of other rare types of club­mosses and zos­tero­phy­lop­sid plants have also been col­lected.

San­ral’s project man­ager, Steven Robert­son, dis­closed that a rest and ob­ser­va­tion area for road users was planned next to the new her­itage site.

“We will in­clude in­for­ma­tion boards and dis­plays on the sig­nif­i­cance of the fos­sils, their age and how they fit into the evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory of the earth,” he said.

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