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Dinosaur Fossils in Clarens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Large Jurassic dinosaurs lived in the eastern part of Free State about 200-million-years ago, when the giant southern super-continent, Gondwana, was still intact.

The Highland Giant: Artist Viktor Radermacher’s reconstruction of what Ledumahadi Mafube may have looked like. Another South African dinosaur, Heterodontosaurus tucki, watches in the foreground. Copyright Viktor Radermacher. Source: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

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Discovery of fossils

From 12 January 2009 the remains of the largest dinosaurs to ever be found on South African soil were discovered in Clarens, a small town in Free State (province). Dr Jonah Choineire, a senior researcher at the Evolutionary Studies Institute, said the remains of the large creature were found between the border of Lesotho and South Africa just outside of Clarens.

The remains were discovered at a construction site of the Ingula Pump and Storage Scheme, developed by Eskom Holdings (Pty) Ltd. Mr Gavin Anderson, the project archaeologist, together with Dr Gideon Groenewald, a geologist/palaeontologist, were requested to assist with the recording of fossil finds at the construction site. The sites of the excavations were inspected on a continuous basis during the excavation in 12 January 2009. To date (2017) twenty five sites have been recorded, where fossilised bones were found. Remains of the vertebrates discovered were very broken and unfortunately disturbed by the excavations.

 A very well preserved tusk of a plant-eating reptile, possibly a Dicynodon lacerticeps, was later recorded. The discovery of well-preserved bone fossils in the main quarry indicated that the interbedded mudstones in the region may have provided valuable information on the fauna of the ancient environment in that region.

Eskom Holdings (Pty Ltd) provided a container for storage of fossils on site. Temporary curation of fossils was done for that storage. The Gorgonopsian and other fossils recorded up to 31 January 2009 were transported to the National Museum in Bloemfontein on 11 March 2009. New finds were stored in the container and only fossils that needed urgent identification were transported to Bloemfontein.

 

Simple reconstruction of Massospondylus carinatus, the early Jurassic ‘prosauropod’ from Africa. During the Late Jurassic the earliest lizards have appeared and primitive placental mammals have evolved. Dinosaurs dominate both landmasses. Large marine reptiles inhabited the ocean, and pterosaurs were the dominant flying vertebrates.

Types of dinosaurs discovered

 

Massospondylus

Remains of the largest dinosaur to walk in the southern parts of Africa, namely a 190-million-year-old fossilised egg of a Massospondylus dinosaur have been found. This dinosaur lived in the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic, a period from about 230-million years ago to about 185-million years ago. The Massospondylus wandered about in great herds, migrating back and forth between what would millions of years later become the landmasses in today’s Southern Hemisphere, including Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, Australia-New Guinea, and New Zealand, as well as Arabia and the Indian subcontinent of the Northern Hemisphere; when the southern super-continent, Gondwana, was still intact. The rocks that were laid down during this period are called the Stormberg Group of rocks, and it is in rocks of the Stormberg Group that the fossils of Massospondylus and other dinosaurs were found. Massospondylus dinosaurs hatched from eggs not much larger than a hen’s egg, but grew into big creatures 5 to 6 metres long. They had large bodies, long necks and small heads, and long tails.

Antetonitrus

Another species found was a 210-million-year-old sauropod named Antetonitrus. It was found in the Ladybrand District of the Free State (province). The dinosaurs dominated on Earth for about 120-million years until the end of the Cretaceous Period, 65-million years ago. (Cretaceous Period: Ceratopsian and pachycephalosaurid dinosaurs evolve. Modern mammal, bird, and insect groups emerge.)

Today

With the discovery of the fossils, the small town of Clarens started giving 2-3 hour dinosaur tours to view the fossils. The Clarens Dinosaur Tour (Call 083 469 4703) begins with a comprehensive talk on Geology and Paleontology of the region. Viewers then have the opportunity to see a variety of fossils – from teeth, claws and limb bones of the prehistoric giants, to the leaf impressions of ancient ferns – while learning about what the Earth was like during that period and how the different rock layers were formed. The talk is followed by a trip to an ancient track way, where the fossilized footprints of dinosaurs can be seen and followed.

Dino Park Visitor’s Centre in Golden Gate National Park

Construction has begun on a dinosaur visitor’s centre next to the camp site in the Golden Gate National Park, and is expected to be completed in December 2019. This centre will tell the story of the oldest known dinosaur eggs, nest and embryo that were discovered in the park.

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