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Rich fossil heritage at Nieu Bethesda

Posted : 06 August 2012

By Barbara Hollands

THE OWL House is not the only big-ticket tourist attraction in Nieu Bethesda – the Karoo town’s ancient fossils are drawing their fair share of visitors too.

Tourists on “fossil safaris” come to see 250-million- year-old fossilised deposits of creatures who lived 50 million years before the first dinosaurs, in a river bed that may soon be proclaimed a National Heritage site.

According to Albany Museum palaeontologist Dr Billy de Klerk, the fossils, which he described as “mammal-like reptiles” were discovered in the dry Gats River which runs past the  front of the Owl House.

“A lot of fossils were exposed on the dry river bed and people visiting the Owl House would have a picnic there.  Some would vandalise them and chip bits of them and so it was important to protect this important fossil site,” said De Klerk.

The result was the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre, a collaboration between Grahamstown’s Albany Museum, the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research at Wits University and the Department of Science and Technology.

The centre was opened eight years ago in a renovated outbuilding of the famous Owl House and was manned by five Nieu Bethesda locals who were trained to tell the story of the Karoo fossils.

“We have had fantastic feedback,” said De Klerk.

“At the end of last year we moved from the Owl House to a house provided by a Cape Town benefactor and now we have displays in two rooms, plus the tour guide takes visitors on a guided tour of the river bed where they can see the fossils on site.”
De Klerk said  the  centre was in the process of applying for the river bed to be declared a National Heritage site.

This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, August 4, 2012.

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