N2 construction stumbles upon exciting fossils
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.