At a noted South African fossil exhibit an extraordinary and very rare collection of original fossils dating back more than 120 million years are on display. These fossils, a small selection from the institutes prized collection, date back even further than the earliest hominids and offer a glimpse at what came before dinosaurs and how mammals evolved.
It is not greatly known by the general public that South Africa has one of the richest and oldest fossil records in the world with their natural rock and fossil resources and collections accounting for more than two-thirds of the history of our planet.
Fossils in South Africa range from 3,800 million years old to the last million years and have recorded the earliest of life forms (microscopic single cells that flourished in the primeval oceans) through to the arrival of shelled and then skeletal creatures.
At The Cradle of Humankind, 1 of 8 World Heritage Sites in South Africa, records in the form of fossils date back 180-300 million years showing a near continuous sedimentary record of paleontological history which stretches more than 100 million years. This is the only place on Earth that has such extensive and continuous records and tells the story of our world right from the very beginning.
These significant finds are of great importance as they show scientists how from just 3 groups of ancestor reptiles (Pelycosaurs, Archosaurs and Therapsids) tortoises, dinosaurs, lizards, snakes and small mammals all evolved which helps palaeontologists to piece together the puzzle of human and mammal evolution in greater detail; tracing the entire evolutionary development of mammals from our primitive reptilian ancestors through to the first true mammal.
The award-winning exhibition in South Africa is a collaboration between Maropeng and the Paleontological Research center (the Bernard Price Institute) at Wits University and was described by the director of the Bernard Price Institute (BPI), Professor Bruce Rubidge when he said “All fossils displayed here are our ancestors”.
Visitors to The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site at the Maropeng Visitors Center will be able to see parts of Aardonyx an herbivorous dinosaur that lived 195 million years ago in the early Jurassic period that was a close common ancestor to the sauropod dinosaurs. The exhibition also has a large Erythrosuchus reptile skull on display, this crocodile-like skull believed to be one of the most distant ancestors of the dinosaur and also on display is the large hand of a Gorgonopsian – One of the ancient mammal-like reptiles.
However, the show-piece of the exhibition for dinosaur fans is the clutch of dinosaur eggs dating back 195 million years making them the oldest known fossilized dinosaur eggs in the whole world. The eggs were discovered at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State province, the same site which yielded the oldest known Massopondylus embryos. 10 nests at several different levels each with up to 34 eggs in tightly clustered clutches were discovered and were estimated to be 100 millions years older than previously discovered nesting sites. This discovery shows that early dinosaurs returned to the same nesting ground each year and helping palaeontologists to learn more about the complex reproductive behavior in early dinosaurs.
This amazing find and more can all be viewed at this incredible South African fossil exhibit.2012-08-30