At the helm of the spoor

George Herald - - Briewe | Letters -

Cor­re­spon­dent Bob Hop­kin spo­ke to an ex-pat South A­fri­can re­tur­ning to help un­lock the an­cient se­crets of the Sout­hern Ca­pe.

Whi­le en­joying the fo­re­sts, ma­ri­ne li­fe and bi­rds of the Gar­den

Rou­te, lo­cals know not to ex­pect the Big Fi­ve - with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­ti­on of an e­lep­hant or two in the Knys­na fo­re­sts. Ho­we­ver, a me­di­cal doc­tor, hai­ling from Gre­at Brak Ri­ver but now re­si­dent in Ca­na­da, has e­vi­den­ce that the Sout­hern Ca­pe was on­ce ho­me to an a­bun­dan­ce of lar­ge wild­li­fe as well as e­ar­ly man.

C­har­les Helm, of the A­fri­can Cen­t­re for Co­as­tal Pa­la­e­o­s­cien­ce, re­cent­ly ga­ve a ri­vet­ing talk to mem­bers of the Wil­der­ness Ra­te­pay­ers and Re­si­dents Association a­bout this an­cient wild­li­fe that left tan­gi­ble tra­ces of their ex­is­ten­ce in the form of spoor im­pres­si­ons in rock for­ma­ti­ons, o­ver­look­ed for cen­tu­ries. Helm is now re­si­dent in a de­cli­ning co­al mi­ning town in the Ca­na­di­an Rockies cal­led Tum­bler Rid­ge w­he­re, by chan­ce, the mi­ning acti­vi­ties ex­po­sed di­no­saur tracks and bo­nes. Alt­hough ha­ving litt­le in­te­rest in ar­cha­e­o­lo­gy up to that point, he be­ca­me so ab­sor­bed by this find that, al­ong with ot­her vo­lun­teers, he hel­ped de­ve­lop the si­te in­to a ma­jor draw card for both pa­la­e­on­to­lo­gis­ts and the pu­blic. It was de­cla­red a U­nes­co Glo­bal Ge­o­park in 2014.

Ha­ving this new­found mo­ti­va­ti­on, and re­tur­ning to South A­fri­ca pe­ri­o­di­cal­ly, he and his wi­fe and sons cho­se to s­tart ex­plo­ring the co­as­tal rock for­ma­ti­ons of the Sout­hern Ca­pe.

“By this ti­me we had de­ve­lo­ped w­hat we choo­se to call ‘The Eye’ for spot­ting u­nu­su­al fe­a­tu­res in rocks and re­a­li­sed that all rocks tell a s­to­ry, not on­ly of their own for­ma­ti­on but, w­hen t­hey are in a se­mi-fluid s­ta­te, of the li­ving beings that pass o­ver them,” he said.

T­hey al­so dis­co­ve­r­ed that the mos­t­ly soft rocks al­ong the co­ast that s­how the­se im­pres­si­ons, e­ro­de e­a­si­ly as, within a s­hort ti­me, high spring ti­des de­stroy the e­vi­den­ce ad­ding ur­gen­cy to plot­ting lo­ca­ti­ons, ta­king im­pres­si­ons and pic­tu­res of the finds.

He ad­ded that most of the tracks t­hey ha­ve found da­te from the la­te P­leis­to­ce­ne era, a­bout 90 000 to 130 000 y­e­ars ago, and s­how the pre­sen­ce of e­lep­hant, a mul­ti­tu­de of buck, gi­raf­fe, rhi­no, turt­les as well as ex­tinct spe­cies such as long­horn buf­fa­lo and gi­ant horses. “Com­pa­red to the si­tes in Ca­na­da, the fre­quen­cy and di­ver­si­ty of our finds al­ong this co­ast from

Still Bay to P­let­ten­berg Bay are ex­tra­or­di­na­ry. It tru­ly is the mot­her lo­de,” he said.

Helm has been in touch with We­stern Ca­pe Pre­mier He­len Zil­le who is ent­hu­si­as­tic a­bout his fin­dings.

He says she plans to vi­sit so­me of the mo­re ex­ci­ting si­tes, and is ex­plo­ring the pos­si­bi­li­ty of es­ta­blis­hing a Sout­hern Ca­pe Her­i­ta­ge Rou­te.

(This ar­ti­cle was first pu­blis­hed in CX­press on 10 Oc­to­ber.)

A rhi­no pas­sed this way 90 000 y­e­ars ago.

An­cient turt­le tracks he­a­ding to the sea.

C­har­les Helm

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