Mesosaurus Fossil Camp is a Gondwana history lesson

Photo: Chloe Durr

Mesosaurus Fossil Camp is a Gondwana history lesson

03 August 2020 | Tourism

By Chloe Durr

Given the stark desert-scapes and sheer lack of moisture in Namibia, it is hard to imagine that parts of this desert and semi-desert country were once submerged under water, and even covered by a thick layer of ice, while being part of the Supercontinent Gondwana some 320 million years ago. Evidence of this can be found at the Mesosaurus Fossil Camp just 40km from Keetmanshoop.

Nestled in a grey sedimentary rock on Giel Steenkamp's sheep farm, Mesosaurus Fossils lie waiting to be discovered by you in outcrops of the barren Kalahari landscape. Subvolcanic dolerite rock formations and ancient quiver tree forests - all remnants of history and times gone past. During a one hour long tour, Giel manages to figuratively compress millions of years of history into the palm of his “fossilised hand“. Certain to hold your attention with bated breath and keep you in stitches of laughter, Giel is the ultimate storyteller as he describes and tells you of this ancient land, which is also interspersed with German Schutztruppen War Graves.

During the early Permian period (roughly 270 million years ago) a shallow inland sea covered what is now South America and Southern Africa and it is here that you now find fossilised remains of extinct aquatic reptiles that once dominated these shallow waters. Long before dinosaurs walked the earth, these Mesosaurus are some of the earliest proof of the continental drift. Cracked open along a fissure, Giel opens the rock to reveal the perfectly mirrored fossils, with intricate details revealing a lizzard-like body, ribcage, delicate limbs with fingers and toes, and even fossilised excrement (known as coprolite). Having no permit nor the real expertise to excavate such sites, Giel prefers to leave these ancient fossils “to rest in pieces“ until the time comes, when paleontologists are ready to divulge further information and provide more professional insight into this already historically rich piece of farmland.

The last stage of the tour leaves one mesmerized in an otherworldly paradise of “musical“ black Dolerite boulders interspersed with ancient Quiver trees in a subvolcanic garden. The forest of thousands of quiver trees, of which species the San Bushmen used the hollow branches to carry their quills, is the best sighting I have had of this statuesque specimen!

From more recent history to ancient history, Giel leaves no stone unturned in amusingly edifying both young and old on some of the geological wonders of Namibia.

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