Fossil hunting in the Karoo near Nieu-Bethesda

Dr Rose Previc and Dr Billy de Klerk, palaeontologists at the Albany Museum, invited the East London Museum to participate in a field excursion to look fossils in the mountains north of Nieu-Bethesda. The first locality situated at 1 660 meters, near the old Loodspad Pass defined the Permian-Triassic boundary (regarded as one of the largest extinction events on the planet 251 million years ago).

The task was to seek plant fossils in both the Permian and Triassic rocks as well as to find new veterbrate fossils. Included here was a previous find of a Lystrosaurus (which needed to be treated and removed using a plaster cast jacket).


Museum scientist Kevin Cole joined the team and the first bit of ‘scratching’ produced some well defined plant fossils which Rose identified. Following this Billy treated the Lystrosaurus fossil skeleton with paraloid in preparation for removal in the days to come. Aviwe Matiwane, Luvuyo Mayi and Armstrong Khoso were also in the field and assisted with the search for fossils and the removal of the fossil skeleton.

Palaeo May20143 The Permian-Triassic boundary is representative of the Beaufort Group of rocks which form part of the Karoo Supergroup. These rocks were deposited as sand and mud over tens of millions of years when slow flowing rivers and streams fed into a large inland sea when South Africa was part of a super-continent called Gondwana.

Plants and animals fossilised in these substrates when the sand and mud turned to stone (lithified) – one of the most common animals was the dicynodont therapsid Lystrosaurus (late Permian to middle Triassic).

IMG_3548 The Kitching Fossil Exploration Center in Nieu-Bethesda is worth a visit to learn more about the creatures of this period.

 One of the special discoveries on the excursion was Billy de Klerk’s fossil skull, also of a Lystrosaurus – in the photo below a portion of the tusk can be seen. The remainder of the skeleton had unfortunately been eroded away.


It was good to be in the field with Albany Museum palaeontologists, Rose Prevec and Billy De Klerk and to note the research undertaken to unravel the science of the evolution of plants and of how reptiles evolved to mammals in this ‘story book’ of life captured in these ancient rocks.


About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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