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MESOSAURUS FOSSILS NAMIBIA. Mesosaurus tenuidens trace fossils found both in Brazil and Namibia supported the theory of Continental Drift.

 

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Mesosaurus tenuidens Fossils

Trace fossils found  in Brazil and Namibia that supported the theory of Continental Drift.

 

 

Mesosaurus Fossils In Namibia

The Mesosaurus Fossil site is on Farm Spitzkoppe Ost (nr 159) which is about 48km north-east of Keetmanshoop alongside the C17 Road that runs to Koes. Also on the C37 road you will find the Giants' Playground and the Quiver Tree Forest.

 

The Spitzkoppe Farm a variety of fascinating features that promise you a couple of very interesting hours, some unusual sights and excellent photography opportunities. Here you can visit a hillside where some of the world's best examples Mesosaurus tenuidens fossils are to be found. During your guided tour you will be taken to a forest of Quiver-Trees and see outcrops of unusual dolerite rock formations ' Giant's Playground ' style and, for those interested in the history of battles, the  graves of two young Schutztruppe killed in the 1904-1907 native uprising.

 

The farms in the south of Namibia are vast and for most of the year dry. Apart from the scattered tough flocks of African Damara and Dorper sheep they are seemingly empty. There's always plenty of work to do on a farm, and every farmer's son enjoys spending his school vacation time working alongside his father. There are many and diverse jobs that a farmer has to know and do, so the sooner a boy takes interest the better he will learn. It was on such a working day in 1988 when Giel Steenkamp was maintaining one of his farm roads with his road-grader that his 10 year old son, Hendrik, shouted for his father to stop. Hendrik had noticed something unusual as the machine cut its way through the soft laminated sedimentary rock. The boy's keen eyes had spotted an unusual pattern on one of the rock's faces.

Mesosaurus Artist's impression

A skeletal pattern. A closer inspection revealed an almost perfect trace fossil showing the imprint of a lizard-like creature's spine along with rib cage, legs and feet. The finding would play a significant roll in supporting an important geological theory. But, let us first travel back to the time when Namibia was lush and green and the vast Gai-As lake covered much of what is now south and central Namibia.

 

The Permian Period ( 280 - 248 million years ago) is known as being the age of the amphibians. It was a time when many of the land reptiles returned to the lakes and seas in favour of an aquatic life and the first known of reptile to do so was the Mesosaurus (meaning 'Middle Lizard' in Greek). It grew to about 70cm in length and had a long broad paddle-like tail, which along with its large webbed feet allowed it

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to swim and manoeuvre quickly. Its nostrils were positioned near to its eyes and forward of the head protruded a long narrow set of jaws equipped with needle like teeth. There are differing theories with regards to the eating habits of Mesosaurus. As to whether the needle-like teeth were used to trap and either chew or filter the small marine life foods that it preyed upon.

 

The Permian Period ( 280 - 248 million years ago) is known as being the age of the amphibians. It was a time when many of the land reptiles returned to the lakes and seas in favour of an aquatic life and the first known of reptile to do so was the Mesosaurus (meaning 'Middle Lizard' in Greek). It grew to about 70cm in length and had a long broad paddle-like tail, which along with its large webbed feet allowed it to swim and manoeuvre quickly. Its nostrils were positioned near to its eyes and forward of the head protruded a long narrow set of jaws equipped with needle like teeth. There are differing theories with regards to the eating habits of Mesosaurus. As to whether the needle-like teeth were used to trap and either chew or filter the small marine life foods that it preyed upon.

 

During the Permian Period this area experienced, at times, violent dust storms. It is possible that some of the dust storms were of such intensity that areas experiencing heavy dust deposits rendered the sea water so muddy that some of the marine life forms including Mesosaurus would have 'drowned'. Wind born sands and dusts would also settle down to the sea-bed covering in a blanket of mud any life forms that had recently died and not succumbed to scavengers.

 

Mesosuarus The place where the fossils were first dicovered

The location of the discovery

Giel Steenkamp with his son Hendrick

Hendrik & Giel Steenkamp

Map of Gondwana 280 million years ago

Gondwana 260Ma ago

Map of Gondwana 95 Ma following separation of continents

The two continents 95Ma ago

 

Mesosaurus tenuidens fossils and the connection with Continental Drift:

It was as early as 1620 that the English philosopher Francis Bacon commented on the apparent similarity of the shape of the West coastline of Africa and the Eastern coastline of South America. However, Bacon made no reference that the two continents could have once been joined. In 1858, an American called Antonio Schneider made the suggestion that the continents had somehow moved in respect to each other. But, it was not until 1915 that German meteorologist Alfred Lothar Wegener (1880-1930) published in his book, 'THE ORIGIN OF CONTINENTS AND OCEANS' the theory of Continental Drift . Wegener proposed that the earth had once consisted of a single land mass surrounded by a vast ocean. He named this super continent Pangaea and explained that it had long ago divided forming two great continents - Laurasia in the North and Gondwana in the South and that, in time, these two continents had further divided. Wegener's theory was viewed with scepticism by the Geological fraternity until the 1960s by which time advanced scientific measuring equipment had been developed and the phenomenon of Paleomagnetism was accepted.

 

Whitehill Formation plates of soft stone

Whitehill Formation

 

Mesosaurus Fossil of Bowel Section

Bowel section with coprolite

 

Mesosaurus Trace Fossil of section of spine

Spinal section

 

Mesosaurus Trace Fossil of lower jaw showing needle like teeth

Lower Jaw and Needle like teeth

 

Mesosaurus Trace Fossil of rear leg and foot section

Rear section, leg & foot

Mesosaurus tenuidens Trace Fossil

Mesosaurus tenuidens

Mesosaurus Trace Fossil of spinal section

A beautifully 'sandwiched' trace fossil

 

Mesosaurus tenuidens of Namibia and the Brazilian Connection:

The above left shows the great inland Lake Gai-As that lay across an area of the super continent of Gondwana that would divide about 120 million years ago forming the continents of Africa and South America. It was along the shoreline of this ancient lake where Mesosaurus lived.

 

The discovery of similar fossils being found in Southern Africa and also in Brazil added further support to the theory that the continents were once been joined, and the creature once inhabited the great inland Lake Gai-As that had in the Permian Period spread deep inland on both of the modern day continents. The fossil remains of the creature found in Brazil are referred to as Mesosaurus brasiliensis whereas those found in Southern Africa are known as Mesosaurus tenuidens

 

The Fossil Site on Farm Spitzkoppe:

When looking over the arid landscape of Southern Namibia it takes an amount of imagination to understand that this was once the bed of a great inland sea. There are hills of about 50 metres in height that on closer inspection have been built by layer upon layer of sediments that were deposited by wind blown sands and dusts at an estimated rate of 2 cm per 1000 years. The softer areas of sediments that once were positioned alongside these hills has long ago been washed and 'blown' away. The sedimentary rocks in this area are known as the Whitehill Formation which is a carbon rich black mudstone that weathers to a whitish colour as can be seen above left. Close inspection of the rock layers, in places, show what appears to be a small hole. Further investigation usually reveals that this is a point where a spinal section of a  Mesosaurus can be found.

 

Footnote: The Farm Spitzkoppe West in the Karas Region of Namibia is one of the world's richest and easily accessible depositories of Mesosaurus fossils. In the future event of the site being professionally explored one is left to wonder as to what size of fossils or even a previously unknown of ancient life form could be found.

 

There's a small reception office at the farm where you will be warmly greeted by the owner Giel Steenkamp and his son Hendrik, one of whom will guide you on a personal tour of the points of interest on the farm. Your time is about 2 hours and includes a personally guided tour of the site, plus a visit to the farm's own 'Forest of Quiver Trees and 'Giant's Playground" style Dolerite rock formations.

 

Acknowledgements and further reading: G1, G2, G3, P1, W1, W2, W9

 

  Mesosaurus Tour pt 2


Of Interest: Pangaea means "All The Land" in Greek.The continents of Africa and South America are estimated to still be drifting apart at the rate of about 1cm per year.

Mesosaurus tenuidens

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