Outreach & Guiding for a National Science and Technology Forum group (NSTF Brilliants) to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT): Friday 23rd to Monday 26th June 2017.

Anja Bruton, the Science Promotions Coordinator at SKA Africa, approached StarPeople to accompany the NSTF Brilliants group (http://www.nstf.org.za/youth/brilliants-programme/) on the tour to the SKA and SALT and we jumped at the opportunity. Anja and Dimpho would fly to Kimberly to meet up with Jansie Niehaus and Wilna Eksteen from the NSTF (http://www.nstf.org.za/) and a group of students, chosen for their exceptional performance in the 2016 Matriculation exams; specifically in the Science paper. This group would fly down from Gauteng and, after a day’s sightseeing in Kimberley, they would tackle the long journey to Carnarvon in two Quantums on Saturday the 24th. They would also be accompanied by two photographers who were tasked with documenting the trip.

Lynnette, Auke, Snorre and I would leave Cape Town for Carnarvon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnarvon,_Northern_Cape) early on Thursday the 23rd and book in at the Lord Carnarvon Guest House. Anja and the rest of the group were scheduled to arrive shortly after lunch on Saturday and on Saturday evening StarPeople were to present a stargazing session at Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base about 15 km outside Carnarvon. On Sunday morning the group would visit the SKA site itself and after that, e would depart for Sutherland. On Sunday evening there was to be stargazing session at the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre and on Monday morning we would tour the SAAO facilities on the hill before heading for Cape Town.

However, as Robert Burns once said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” First of all, Auke had to pull out because of domestic complications. Then the car hire company notified us that the vehicle we required could only be delivered on Friday morning and not on Thursday afternoon as requested. This, of course, scuppered our 05:00 departure plan, but Lynnette and I made sure that we had everything packed and ready to load by 08:00 when the vehicle was scheduled to arrive. However, it only arrived at about 08:30 and, when it did arrive, it was petrol and not diesel driven as had been requested. Disaster! Petrol-driven vehicles are not allowed access to the SKA site because their spark plugs generate interference for the radio telescope. It is more than 600 km to Carnarvon and we had to be there before dark. We also still had to load the vehicle so, if we sent it back and insisted on a diesel driven one, there was no chance of reaching Carnarvon before dark. We signed for the vehicle, finished loading in record time and at 09:40 we set off for Carnarvon.

TOP: The hired Hyundai H1 with the StarPeople door magnets.  CENTRE: Entering Malmesbury.  BOTTOM: Passing Moorreesburg on the N7.

The journey was long but uneventful. We stopped for petrol and Lynnette’s packed lunch in Vanrhynsdorp (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanrhynsdorp) after 290 km. We then stopped halfway up the spectacular Vanrhyns Pass to take pictures. The original pass was constructed in 1880 by Thomas Bain and climbs almost 600 m from the Knersvlakte to its summit, situated at just over 800 m, which is about the same as the top of Du Toitskloof pass. The pass has an average gradient of 1:15 with the steepest section being 1:12.

TOP: Looking West from Piekenierskloof Pass toward the northern end of the Piketberg.  CENTRE: Citrusdal in the distance against the backdrop of the Cederberg with Cederberg Sneeukop just left of centre.  BOTTOM: The turn-off to Clanwilliam and this rebuilt section of the N7 is a pleasure to drive.
TOP: Stop and Go delay due to the reconstruction of the bridge across the Olifants River.  CENTRE: The light coloured patches on the hill in the background are called Heuweltjies and their origin is a much-debated topic. Go to any one of the following links to read up on them. (1. https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Heuweltjie) (2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuweltjie#cite_note-7) (3. http://www.sajs.co.za/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/SAJS%20112_1-2_Cramer_Research%20Article.pdf) (4. https://www.infona.pl/resource/bwmeta1.element.elsevier-ab969e23-2c87-36b0-a144-1c5ed9ebd6af) BOTTOM: Vanrhynsdorp and the cliffs of the Matzikamma mountain range. Maskam lies at the eastern end while Gifberg is on the western edge. These mountains form the western boundary of the Great Escarpment.
TOP: Approaching the Knersvlakte on the R27 and in the distance the edge of the Great Escarpment.  2nd FROM TOP: Vanrhyns Pass which takes the R27 up to the top of the Great Escarpment is visible in the distance.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: The R27 begins the ascent of the pass.  BOTTOM: Up we go around one of the many fairly sharp bends in the road up the pass.

Shortly after Vanrhyns Pass, we passed the turnoff to the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve (here is a Wikipedia link http://www.footprint.co.za/oorlogskloof.htm ) with its spectacular glacial floor, but there was no time to visit that on this trip. The reserve is situated just west of Nieuwoudtville (http://www.nieuwoudtville.com/the-treasure/). Next was Calvinia the main town of the Hantam region (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinia) with its extra outsize red post-box and, 230 km after Vanrhynsdorp, we reached Williston (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williston,_Northern_Cape), where we made a brief stop for another light snack and to answer a call of nature, before tackling the last 125 km to Carnarvon. Time constraints had prevented us from visiting the Langbaken cheese farm (http://karoospace.co.za/cheesemakers-upper-karoo/) south of Williston, but we will save that for another day.

TOP: View back over the Knersvlakte toward the West Coast and the distant South Atlantic Ocean.  2nd FROM TOP: View southeast past a mass of protruding sandstone in the direction of the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Steep cliffs of Table Mountain sandstone group rise above the road.  BOTTOM: A very large red flower post-box in Calvinia.
TOP: The R63 stretches out ahead of us as we approach Williston.  2nd FROM TOP: The shadow of the Earth and the pink layer of the Venus Girdle over Carnarvon as we approach on the R63.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Entering the outskirts of Carnarvon.  BOTTOM: Our destination the Lord Carnarvon Guest House in Carnarvon.

On the last stretch, we had to push it a bit and reached Carnarvon in the gathering dusk at 17:45, where we reported to Pieter Hoffman at the Lord Carnarvon guest house in Daniel Street (https://www.carnarvon.co.za/lcindex.htm). This building was the Officer’s Mess during the Anglo-South African War and he has done a magnificent job of restoring it. We unloaded, got Snorre settled in, and walked round to Lord’s Kitchen in Victoria Street (https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/Restaurant_Review-g4226745-d8743616-Reviews-Lord_s-Carnarvon_Northern_Cape.html), also run by Pieter, for supper. After supper, we walked back to the Lord Carnarvon and had the amusing experience of being escorted by a police vehicle because “nobody walks around Carnarvon in the dark”.  This remark struck us a rather odd considering the fact that there were quite a few other local people in the streets.

TOP: Our very well appointed accommodation in the Lord Carnarvon Guest House.  2nd FROM TOP: Snorre making himself at home on his red blanket which we always put over the bed wherever we stay. Although he never, or hardly ever, sleeps on our bed at home, he doesn’t miss the opportunity to do so when we are away from home.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Interior of the front section in Lord’s Kitchen.  BOTTOM: Outside view of our room in the guest house.

On Saturday morning, after breakfast at the Lord Carnarvon, Lynnette, Snorre and I took to the streets to do some house hunting in case we should decide to move to Carnarvon. The results of this expedition were rather disappointing as we soon discovered that, like many small country towns in South Africa, the homeowners wanted lots of cash for the property that was, in our opinion, worth a lot less. The other aspect which surprised us, even though Anja had warned us about it, was the negative sentiment toward the SKA project and the amount of disinformation circulating in the town. This varied from stories that farmers were being chased off their farms without compensation or that farms were being confiscated in order to distribute the land to previously disadvantaged persons, and even that townsfolk were to be evicted so that four blocks of houses could be knocked down to build a college. We also came across an openly hostile sign in a back yard in Kidd Street. Most obvious was the fact that almost everyone we spoke to had no bloody clue what the SKA was, or what it was about.

TOP: Snorre enjoying our slow exploration of Carnarvon.  2nd FROM TOP: Some locals on the outskirts of Carnarvon.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Victoria Street and Lord’s Kitchen with the Adjacent Lord Carnarvon Hotel.  BOTTOM: Sign in the back yard of a house in Kidd Street which we found to be indicative of the attitude of many Carnarvon residents we spoke to.

Shortly before 16:00 Anja let us know they had arrived and were having a late lunch at Lord’s Kitchen. We popped around and Anja introduced us to the group. After the meal the group dispersed to their various rooms and Anja, Dimpho, Lynnette and I set off for Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base, to set up Lorenzo for the stargazing later that evening. Mission accomplished we headed back to town to collect all our warm gear and have supper. After supper, the five vehicle cavalcade made its way back to Klerefontein. On a hill southeast of where we were situated was the large 7,6 m dish of the C-BASS radio telescope (https://www.ska.ac.za/science-engineering/c-bass/) catching the last rays of the setting sun as it patiently toiled away sweeping back and forth to map the radio sky in the 4,5-5,5 MHz frequency range. The C-BASS dish, recently moved from Hartebeeshoek (http://www.hartrao.ac.za/) to Klerefontein, is the southern component (the other telescope is in California) of a project to produce a microwave (short-wavelength radio) radiation map similar to the one produced by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_(spacecraft)), but at longer wavelengths than Planck. C-BASS will also measure the polarization of the radiation.

Anja split the students into two groups for the planned activities. One group stayed with Lynnette, Lorenzo and I to do some stargazing. The other group went inside to participate in Skype Q&A session with Jim Adams, Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA (https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/people/adamsj).The Milky Way was magnificent and drew many Ooh’s and Aah’s from the group. I did a basic what’s-up-tonight and then kept talking while Lynnette operated Lorenzo. There was no Moon but fortunately, Jupiter and Saturn were nicely placed and we could also show them a selection of the other well-known objects. After about an hour the groups changed around and Lynnette, Lorenzo and I repeated our earlier performance. Once we had done with the second group, it was packing up time and then back to town for a hot shower and some much-needed sleep.

Sunday morning at 06:15 it was breakfast time at Lord’s Kitchen and, after collecting our packed lunches, it was all aboard for the trip out to Klerefontein where Anja gave us a Health and Safety briefing and had us all fill in indemnity forms. During the briefing, the emphasis was placed on the mayhem electronic devices caused for the radio telescopes. Mobile phones, which all had to be switched off, were a prime source and even my hearing aid’s hands-free device, that uses Blue Tooth, had to be switched off. After all, this had been sorted out, our motorcade tackled the more than 70 or so kilometers out to the actual SKA site. Large sections have already been tarred, but there are still fairly long sections that are very rough and dusty. Lynnette and I had to leave our petrol driven vehicle with Snorre in it just inside the checkpoint at what used to be the Meysdam farmhouse and continue with Anja and Dimpho in their vehicle. Snorre was quite safe, with enough fresh air, water and food to keep him busy till we get back. We made sure that the vehicle would be in the deep shade while we were away too.

TOP LEFT: Coffee was clearly a priority for most of the group.  TOP RIGHT: They came in by drips and drabs.  BOTTOM LEFT: André, one of the drivers, looking most inquisitive.  BOTTOM RIGHT: Leftovers tell the tale of what was popular and what wasn’t.
TOP: A quiet Victoria Street at 07:20.  CENTRE: Entering Klerefontein with the C-BASS dish on the hill in the distance.  BOTTOM: A dusty section of the road out to the SKA site.

Our first stop was the very impressive, half underground, Karoo Array Processor Building. Placing the centre below ground level was essential to minimize the amount of interference from the computers. In addition to being below ground level, the whole installation is housed inside a huge Faraday cage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage). It is ironic that a radio telescope, which cannot function without massive computer support, also experiences its most annoying interference from computers. It was while touring the Processor Building point that I realized that, if I had simply put my phone on Airplane Mode, I could have brought it with me and taken photographs. Some mothers are just unfortunate to have very dense children! Our next stop was the huge, hanger-sized building where the MeerKAT dishes are assembled. It is only when one stands next to one of these huge constructions lying flat on the floor that one really gets an idea of their overwhelming size. Needless to say, at this point, I mentally administered several more resounding kicks to my posterior for not having anything to take pictures with. After completing this part of the tour it was back into the vehicles for the drive out to the telescopes.

The first stop was the KAT-7 dishes (http://www.ska.ac.za/) where all but one pointed south, collecting data on some unseen object light years away in a distant part of the Universe. KAT-7 was a precursor engineering test bed for the larger MeerKAT array and also served as a demonstration of South Africa’s technological ability when the bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) was submitted. However, KAT-7, the first radio telescope ever to be built with a dish consisting of composite material, is also a science instrument in its own right. Each 12-meter dish is fitted with a prime focus receiver and a Stirling pump cooling unit that supplies the cryogenic cooling to keep the electronics at 75 K. The total collecting area of the seven dishes is about 2000 m2 and they function in the 3 to 30 cm wavelength range at frequencies between 1 200 and 1 950 MHz. KAT-7’s minimum baseline (shortest distance between two dishes) is 26 m and the maximum baseline (longest distance between two dishes) is 185 m. These seven dishes will eventually be decommissioned as science instruments when their successors, the MeerKat Array, comes online and be made available for serious amateurs.

Then we were off to find a MeerKAT dish (http://www.ska.ac.za/) that was positioned in such a way that it would be easy to photograph, which wasn’t easy because, despite the fact that they were lots of them, they were all facing in different directions. It really is an impressive sight, seeing these dishes scattered across the Karoo veldt against the backdrop of the low, dolerite topped hills that surround the area, with the dolerite providing a natural radio screen for the telescopes. Considering that only half of the MeerKAT dishes have been erected so far, one can only imagine what a spectacle it will be when all 64 MeerKAT dishes have been completed. The final Karoo Array Telescope or KAT will definitely be a must-see destination and a breathtaking spectacle for all who visit it. MeerKAT will eventually form the core of the KAT radio telescope array. These 13,5m dishes differ from those of KAT-7 in that they use an offset Gregorian configuration for the placing of the secondary dish and the receivers. Each dish is equipped with three receivers; 0,58 – 1,015 GHz, 1 – 1,75 GHz and 8 – 14,5 GHz. The MeerKAT minimum baseline is 29 m and the maximum baseline is 8 km.

Both KAT-7 and MeerKAT are entirely South African conceived, funded and built enterprises and, even after the construction of the KAT, which has multiple international partners, these two installations will remain entirely South African.

Our next stop was the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) (http://www.ska.ac.za/) which is the simplest construction imaginable and is the successor to the Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionization (PAPER). PAPER has 128 antennae situated at the SKA site and 32 antennae situated in West Virginia in the USA. HERA is an American, British and South African collaboration that will eventually have 331 antennae of 14 m each at the SKA site. The existing PAPER installation will be moved to a location slightly west of the HERA installation and eventually decommissioned when HERA is fully operational. Whereas KAT-7, MeerKAT, and KAT are multipurpose installations HERA has only one fixed goal; it is going to probe back into time to try and find that moment when the very first stars switched on to light up in the Universe. In the process, it will produce a three-dimensional map of the universe during that specific period using radio waves in the 100-200 MHz frequency range. This project is the radio astronomy equivalent of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and when they succeed, this project could very well be in line for a Nobel Prize. The antennae are fixed in one position, pointing straight up at the sky and have no moving parts, which greatly reduces the cost of the installation. What makes this project remarkable is that it is constructed with materials bought off the shelf in a local hardware store by people from the local community of Carnarvon who have been trained by SKA scientists. The big dishes of KAT-7 and the even bigger dishes of MeerKAT look like science instruments. HERA, however, looks like an inverted chicken coop or perhaps some sort of landscape art and not very scientific at all.

We went back to the Processor Building to enjoy our packed lunches and, while there Lynnette noticed that one of the Quantums had a flat tyre, necessitating a wheel change. After lunch, Anja and Dimpho dropped Lynnette and I off at Meysdam to pick up our vehicle and then we all traipsed back to Klerefontein where Anja and Dimpho changed vehicles before we all drove back to Carnarvon to refuel. Lynnette and I had done that the previous evening so we just hung around until the whole convoy was ready to start the long journey to Sutherland, which Anja had elected to do via Loxton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loxton,_Northern_Cape). The just under 70 km from Carnarvon to Loxton was a breeze on a nice tarred road but then came the long 100 km grind on the R356 gravel road to Fraserburg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraserburg). We had been contemplating a visit to the palaeosurface at Gansefontein, just outside Fraserburg, but time was against as; seriously against us. We had hardly left Fraserburg when the sun set and, as it got darker, driving became more and more difficult. The 110 km stretch to Sutherland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutherland,_Northern_Cape) was going to take much, much longer than planned and our stargazing appointment at the SAAO site (http://www.saao.ac.za/about/visting/sutherland/) outside Sutherland had to be canceled. Because Lynnette and I were the last car in the convoy, we collected all the dust from the four vehicles ahead of us. This forced us to fall back more than a kilometer behind the fourth vehicle before we had a clear view of the road ahead.

We all made it safely to Sutherland and, while the majority of the group was booking into the Sutherland Hotel (http://www.sutherlandhotel.co.za/accommodation.php), Lynnette, Snorre, Anja and I as well as the two drivers of the Quantums, booked into Kambro Kind Guest House, where we were welcomed by Juanita Hutchings. Once booked in we went back to the Hotel where we had a typical Karoo supper consisting of meat, meat and more meat with a few vegetables right at the end of the buffet table.  It is just a pity that the hotel did not think of having a nice fire going in the dining area on such a cold evening.

After supper Lynnette and I, Lorenzo, Anja, the photographers and several students drove out to Middelfontein to do some stargazing (http://www.roomsforafrica.com/establishment.do?id=13879&gclid=Cj0KCQjws-LKBRDCARIsAAOTNd6cUH9fdKlh5bbYksnV0F5D-BQPK4kMRrO8IdxP7D_a6uSOZX_UQX8aAoUUEALw_wcB). The photographers were spending the night on Middelfontein, but the rest of us would have to drive back to town to get some sleep. The right side sliding door on our vehicle, which had been playing up since the previous day went on strike when we started unloading. It first refused to open and then, when we forced it to open, it refused to shut without the use of considerable force and, once shut, it refused to open again so we left it shut. Then the courtesy light inside the door which was supposed to only go on when the door was open, decided it wanted to be on even when the door was shut. A resounding thump on the outside of the door convinced the light to go off and stay off. Once that was sorted out we could get round to the stargazing which was a presented in the same format as on Saturday evening at Klerefontein and, once again, worked very well. So well, in fact, that Anja had to chase us all off to bed around midnight.

On Monday morning Lynnette and I packed up before breakfast and, true to Sutherland’s reputation of being very cold, the windscreen of our vehicle was thickly frosted over and the fishpond had a layer of ice over it, thick enough to walk on. After breakfast at Kambro Kind, everyone gathered at the Hotel before departing for the SAAO site where the group spent some time examining the displays in the Visitor’s Centre before Anthony Mitas took us under his very capable wing and shepherded us up the hill to start our tour at the Southern African Large Telescope or SALT (http://www.saao.ac.za/science/facilities/telescopes/salt/). SALT is an international collaboration between South Africa and several overseas partners and is operated as a separate research entity on the SAO site.

TOP LEFT: In Sutherland, you can stand on your fishpond – sometimes.  CENTRE LEFT: The group gets kinky necks as Anthony points up.  BOTTOM LEFT: The SALT mirror.  RIGHT: A section of the beautiful quilt in the foyer of the Visitor’s Centre.
LEFT: SALT all the way to the dome.  RIGHT: SALT against the backdrop of the blue Karoo sky and some wispy clouds.

Anthony presented a most comprehensive and informative talk to the group and, to everyone’s delight, arranged to have the 32-ton behemoth raised on its air cushions and rotated for us. After SALT we went to the 1,9-meter telescope. This is the second largest optical telescope in South Africa and, as the Radcliffe Telescope, it used to be housed in Pretoria but uncontrolled light pollution chased it south in the mid-1970’s (http://assa.saao.ac.za/sections/history/observatories/radcliffe_obs/). It has since acquired new instrumentation designed and built by SAAO-staff and still has many years of valuable scientific life ahead of it. At the telescope, we were met by Dr. Potter, a senior astronomer on the SAAO staff. Dr. Potter talked most informatively about the telescope and his own work as well as the other projects being conducted on the telescope. He also demonstrated how easy it was to operate the telescope, especially after the installation of modern electronic control systems, and showed the group around the control room as well.

After saying goodbye to Dr. Potter and Anthony, we stopped off in Sutherland to refuel and then made a beeline for Cape Town where the group had an 18:00 appointment at the SAAO headquarters in Observatory. We made one stop at the Veldskoen Farm Stall and said our final goodbyes before splitting up.

TOP: Salpeterkop the extinct 65 million-year-old volcano. The container on the left is the Property of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and was recently opened along with the German Aerospace Centre’s dome (DLR) (http://www.sansa.org.za/spacescience/resource-centre/news/1622-another-eye-towards-the-sky-unveiling-south-africa-s-optical-space-research-laboratory?platform=hootsuite). The white pillar on the right used to carry a German site testing telescope – I think! CENTRE: A very bored traveling cat called Snorre.  BOTTOM: Descending the Hex Pass.

My only regret is that with the group split over several vehicles it was impossible to do any guiding while en route. Although we considered stopping the vehicles at points of interest, it would not have been practical from a safety point of view. Time constraints, which played an important role during the trip, virtually canceled the possibility of additional stops even if safety had not been an important consideration.

TOP: A scene north of the R27 as one approaches Calvinia.  2nd FROM TOP: Those five crumbed mushrooms were quite good, but they cost R9 each at Lord’s Kitchen!.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: The two crumbed pork chops served by Lord’s kitchen were probably the largest I have ever been served in a restaurant and they were also probably the most tender and juicy ones too..  BOTTOM: It’s a good thing we didn’t stay too much longer in SALT or there would have been some very stiff necks the next day.

I will post more photos at a later stage as they become available from other people who were on the trip as well as the two official photographers.

Visit to !Khwa ttu, the San Cultural and Education Centre on Monday the 05th of September 2016.

!Khwa ttu is situated on the R27, about 70 km north of Cape Town. This farm is called Grootwater in Afrikaans probably with reference to the view across the sea. The San name !Khwa ttu means an open expanse of water, like a pan, most likely referring to some of the many pans that collect in winter in the hollows created by the granite outcrops. . Go here to brush up your background on !Khwa ttu.

When Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and I left Brackenfell on Monday morning, the weather did not look promising for the stargazing we had planned to present in the evening. I was going to give a talk after lunch, in which I intended to stress the value of indigenous astronomy and in particular the San-related astronomy. My talk would also include tips and guidelines about presenting astronomy sessions to tourists or visitors in general. To get to !Khwa ttu though, we first had to contend with some serious traffic congestion on the N7. The first was caused by an accident just before the Bosmansdam turn-off and then, for some or other unknown reason, we were rerouted by traffic officials through Parklands down to the R27.

We arrived just before 12:00 and, after reporting to Ri, Magdalena and Shaun, we went over to the restaurant to have lunch. I should add here that Shaun Dunn is a direct descendant of the famous John Robert Dunn. If the name does not ring a bell you can brush up on your history by going here . You can also read more about the interesting modern day legal implications of John Dunn’s activities in this article.

In the foyer of the restaurant we met up with Michael, the MMWC at !Khwa ttu (MMWC = Main Man What Counts ☺) and just managed a few words before he had to shoot off elsewhere. Auke spent some time in the museum before lunch while Lynnette and I had coffee with Snorre relaxing in his favourite window sill next to our table.

TOP: The lecture room with Lynnette at the left front, Shaun Dunn standing on the left and Auke’s hat just visible in the far right background. MIDDLE: Me up front with the trainees listening and hopefully remembering some of the things I said. BOTTOM: View from the front stoep and this is clearly not stargazing weather.
TOP: The lecture room with Lynnette at the left front, Shaun Dunn standing on the left and Auke’s hat just visible in the far right background. MIDDLE: Me up front with the trainees listening and hopefully remembering some of the things I said. BOTTOM: View from the front stoep and this is clearly not stargazing weather.

After lunch we were introduced to the trainees and we also later introduced Snorre to the group, much to their amusement. I discussed the value of indigenous knowledge and specifically indigenous astronomy knowledge. I drove the point home that this knowledge had great value as a cultural possession and that it should never be seen as inferior to modern scientific astronomy interpretations. The ancient astronomy knowledge worldwide is the basis on which later knowledge was able to develop. It is imperative that they remember that overseas guests come to Southern Africa for an African Experience. Their unique cultural astronomy narratives are an intrinsic part of such an experience.

The African knowledge tradition is an oral tradition. However, the social fabric, within which it had efficiently functioned for millennia, has all but disappeared in modern times. This means that the oral histories are disappearing too, as the last bearers of that knowledge pass away. The trainees are in the unique position that they still have access, probably only for short while, to sources of these histories; the ageing storytellers. They have an individual and collective responsibility to collect and record as many of these stories as is possible, before they all became lost.

!Khwa ttu was hosting a large conference so all their accommodation was taken up by the delegates. Michael and Ri had booked us into Elly’s Place, a Bed and Breakfast with a Dutch touch in Darling. Go here to find out more about this interesting and hospitable place to stay. With Ri leading the way we headed for Darling to book in and to have supper. Ri and our host Elly, joined us for supper and after supper we went back to !Khwa ttu where Auke handled the evening session with the trainees.

The clouds had effectively cancelled any stargazing or moon watching so we had to fall back on Auke and Stellarium. Despite the disappointment of not being able to do any stargazing the session was a huge success. Auke and I had our pronunciation of San names neatly torpedoed by the polite giggles of the trainees so we have now submitted a list to Ri and asked her to have the trainees record the correct pronunciation and give us the proper translation at the same time.

TOP: Auke imparting words of astronomical wisdom and, judging by the turned heads, he has the group’s attention. MIDDLE: The group of trainees saying goodbye. BOTTOM: The group without Lynnette who insisted on operating the camera.
TOP: Auke imparting words of astronomical wisdom and, judging by the turned heads, he has the group’s attention. MIDDLE: The group of trainees saying goodbye. BOTTOM: The group without Lynnette who insisted on operating the camera.

After Auke’s session the trainees said thank you and goodbye with a traditional San song, which the three of us appreciated immensely. I say the three of us, because Snorre absolutely hates clapping hands and stamping feet so I had my work cut out to prevent him from heading for the hills during their tribute.

After the evening and the lovely musical send-off Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and I left for Darling. A good night’s rest followed by a hearty breakfast at Elly’s and we set off home via the R27, having been warned by the petrol attendant that the road to Mamre and Atlantis was not in a good condition.

The trip home was uneventful, unlike last year’s one which left us with a broken side-window on the Vito and a repair bill of over R8 000-00.

The autumn 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 05 to 07 February 2016.

The autumn Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) followed so hard on the heels of the Southern Star Party in November (read all about it here) that we felt there was hardly any break. We were booked out two weeks before the event, which was a record, and it was a huge success judging from the verbal comments and the written feedback we received. We are obviously elated at the success but also a tad tired, so the long gap till the next Star Party at the end of October is most welcome. However, that gap is already filling up with all sorts of other things so we won’t be exactly idle. We are in fact going flat-out at present to get our grant application for the National Science Week ready to send off to SAASTA by the end of February.

This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program fir the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There was lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember all recipients of the passport – it has to accompany you to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, to bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There is lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember, all recipients of the passport have to bring it to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. Bottom: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. BOTTOM: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

On Tuesday the 02nd of February at 07:00, without any sleep the previous night, Lynnette, Snorre and I left and arrived at Night Sky to find the lawn mowing in full swing. Shortly after they finished, Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent. As soon as that was done I got the projection screen set up and then it started raining lightly. The three of us went to bed early and the next morning we started organizing the tent. Alan and Rose arrived in the course of the morning and after they had set up camp they pitched in to help setting up as well. During the course of Wednesday Auke also arrived. Volker and Aka Kuehne from Pforzheim in Germany were also at Night Sky as they are every summer from early January to mid-March. This was their second SSP and as on the previous occasion they were always ready to lend a hand with just about everything.

This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.
This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.

Lynnette and I drove to Bonnievale to meet Rudolf who had found a fossil deposit and after viewing and photographing the Zoophytes trace-fossils in the Witteberg sediments, we drove back to Night Sky after some essential shopping. Before going to Night Sky we stopped off at Oppiekoppie Guesthouse (go here to see more about Oppiekoppie) to label the rooms, so everybody would know where to go when they arrived the next day. We then drove back to Night Sky for supper, putting up all the banners at the entrance on the way, to make sure nobody got lost. Shortly after supper we turned in. On Thursday Jonathan Balladon, Louis Fourie, Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer and Barry & Miemie Dumas arrived, followed by Pierre de Villiers, Karin de Bruin and Susan Joubert from the Hermanus Centre.

TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Wittenberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Witteberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. Middle: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. MIDDLE: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.

Alan once again set up his model table in the tent where he displayed the Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle, the yet to be completed model of SALT and some very nifty models of the Mars habitat with the surface vehicle and fuel generation unit. During the course of the SSP, and especially on Sunday morning this attracted a lot of attention and many favourable comments.  I personally can’t wait for the completion of the SALT model.

This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.
This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.

Just as we were preparing for the evening braai on Thursday, I was laid low by a kidney stone. Juri de Wet went to a great deal of trouble to track down Dr Esterhuisen in Bonnievale who agreed to meet us at his consulting rooms. Auke drove Lynnette and I there in his car in a record time and I was given a shot of morphine to reduce the pain. The doctor liaised with an urologist; Dr Deon Marais in Worcester and off the three of us went again to the Worcester Medi Clinic. I was put on a drip and had to stay in hospital for a scan before having an operation to remove the kidney stone, the next day. Lynnette and Auke had to leave me contemplating my kidney stone, while they drove back to attend to the running of the SSP. On the Friday Alan and Rose were roped in to help organize things and keep the administration running smoothly while Lynnette came back to Worcester in Auke’s car. She stayed with me until late in the afternoon before driving back to help at Night Sky, where everyone had by now arrived. I was eventually operated on at around 18:00 on Friday and at 06:00 on Saturday, Lynnette was there again in Auke’s car, to pick me up and back to Bonnievale we went.

TOP LEFT: I herby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for the budget overruns.
TOP LEFT: I hereby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for their budget overruns.

Shortly after 08:30, on Saturday morning, I had a session with the beginner group and was rather amazed to find Pierre de Villiers, current ASSA president there. I am quite certain he is well out of the beginner category, but perhaps he just wanted to make sure I did not spout too much drivel.

Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Magda Streicher’s talk “Deep-Sky Delights” which took us on a genteel journey through the process of observing deep-sky objects and sketching them. Her talk was lavishly illustrated with personal anecdotes and examples of her own sketches. We are all looking forward to the book you intend publishing with all those sketches, Magda!

Next up was Bani van der Merwe who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so Pierre de Villiers, present ASSA president, came out to bat and he more than welcomed the extra time at the wicket. Pierre’s topic “How to foster an interest in, and enjoyment of, astronomy” was actually a workshop rather than an ordinary talk. He illustrated the various initiatives of the Hermanus Centre intended to achieve these objectives and engaged with the audience to get their ideas on the matter.

While Pierre was talking Marius, Kim, Lynnette and I packed and lit the fires for the lunch-time braai. During the course of the lunch-break it was decided that it was just too hot to go back into the tent for the remainder of the talks at 15:00, so everything was postponed until 17:00. We hoped that it would have cooled by then. The lucky draw also shifted and the Pub Quiz looked as if might have to take a back seat till October.

Ray Brederode’s presentation “The discoveries of Rosette and Philae” was very well received and generated quite a number of questions from the audience. He was followed by Charl Cater, who presented a short, but very interesting talk entitled “Green Pea Galaxies”. Auke Slotegraaf rounded of the programme with a presentation titled “To Forever Remain a Child: Astronomy and cultural heritage in South Africa.” The talk covered a number of important issues pertaining to astronomical heritage in South Africa and hopefully some members of the audience will heed Auke’s call to become involved in efforts to preserve that heritage.

On Friday night Dwayne apparently only had eyes for the stars in the love of his life’s eyes. How do I know? Because he took Claire out under the stars and proposed to her. Congratulations, this is the first engagement for the Southern Star Party and we hope that by the next SSP he will have taken the logical step and be able to bring his starry eyed wife along. We took the opportunity after the last talk to congratulate them and hope they enjoyed the bottle of wine and slab of chocolate we presented them with.

A series of images depicting the telescope are which was a focal point by day but especially at night.
A series of images depicting the telescope area which was a focal point by day, but especially at night.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.

By this time the light was just right for the group photo and after that Pierre de Villiers drew the three winners of our raffle. The first prize, a Skywatcher  Newtonian telescope was won by Chris Vermeulen (D=130, F=650, 25mm & 10mm eyepieces, Red Dot Finder, tripod and manual equatorial mount). The second and third prizes were two bottles of good red wine which went to Barry Dumas and Martin Coetzee respectively.

it was clear that time had overtaken us so we cancelled everything else and got ready for the evenings observing and related activities. It was a good evening for observing even though there were signs of clouds encroaching by about 23:00 and it actually rained around 03:00 or shortly thereafter. Martin Lyons and several other stalwarts were quick to rescue the telescopes that had been left in the telescope area by owners that had ignored the impending change in the weather.

TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours. Camera - Nikon D5100. Lens - AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G ISO 800 & f/1.8 Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals) & combined with StarStax 0.71
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours.
Camera – Nikon D5100.
Lens – AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
ISO 800 & f/1.8
Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals)
& combined with StarStax 0.71
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph also taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party by Leslie Rose.
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph, taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party, by Leslie Rose.

On Sunday Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to lay out the material for presenting astronomy to the visually impaired so that people coming to the tent to say goodbye could look at it. Part of the display was Dr Wanda Diaze-Merced’s 20 mHz Jove radio telescope. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd. On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre and I and Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday Tersius and his team took down the tent and loaded up the tables and chairs and on Wednesday the rest of us packed up and left. This brought down the final curtain on the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

Alan tending his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
Alan tending to his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.

Last but not least, a special word of thanks to our generous sponsors, because, without their help and support there is no way we could present a Southern Star Party.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Waltons.

Leeuwenboschfontein, only a pleasure to visit. – 20 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein, health only a pleasure to visit. – 20 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein Guest Farm is situated in the far eastern section of the Little Karoo and their website, which can be visited here, gives a comprehensive overview of all the activities on offer. A visit to their Facebook page, which can be found here, gives more information and a host of informative pictures.

Most non-4×4 enthusiasts will probably be left wandering what they would do there.  There is of course, fishing, hiking, cycling or just plain relaxing, reading a book or chatting around the braai fire and to that you can add taking a snooze in the shade of the magnificent willow trees in the camp site.  If you stay in the guest house there is the pool and another one is under construction next to the camp site. Sports enthusiasts will undoubtedly enjoy the big screen in the converted barn, so there is something for everyone.

However, I thought it would be good thing to highlight some of the things that do not show up on either the website or the Facebook page, in brief photo-essay. You can also read about our recent trip to Leeuwenboschfontein if you go here. It is important not to go to Leeuwenboschfontein without you camera or your binoculars; you will be regret it if you do. So just browse through the photos that follow and read the captions as I have tried to put more information in there.

Top Left: As kids we used to lie on our backs watching the clouds and trying to see patterns and shapes Top right: The Earth’s shadow in the east as the sun sets. At sunrise this shadow will be in the west. Bottom Left: Sunset and the shadows lengthen down the Nougaskloof valley. Bottom Right: The setting sun colours the clouds various shades of pink and orange and all of this is reflected in the dam.
Top Left: As kids we used to lie on our backs watching the clouds and trying to see patterns and shapes. Top right: The Earth’s shadow in the east as the sun sets. At sunrise this shadow will be in the west. Bottom Left: Sunset and the shadows lengthen down the Nougaskloof valley. Bottom Right: The setting sun colours the clouds various shades of pink and orange and all of this is reflected in the dam.
Top Left: This Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) shuttles between the various dams on the farm and is the Grim Reaper personified for the frogs. Here there is a preening session in progress after the flight from another dam. Top Middle: The preening stops suddenly when something draws his attention. Top right: Neck outstretched to get a closer look and just before pouncing. Bottom Left: Got it! And when the frog kept on wriggling the heron simply pounded it against the side of the bout until it succumbed. Bottom Middle: Now the patient wait for the next careless frog. Bottom Right: The same Heron the next day and I wondered how many frogs had gone down that slender neck since I last saw him.
Top Left: This Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) shuttles between the various dams on the farm and is the Grim Reaper personified for the frogs. Here there is a preening session in progress after the flight from another dam. Top Middle: The preening stops suddenly when something draws his attention. Top right: Neck outstretched to get a closer look just before pouncing. Bottom Left: Got it! And when the frog kept on wriggling the heron simply pounded it against the side of the bout until it succumbed. Bottom Middle: Now the patient wait for the next careless frog. Bottom Right: The same Heron the next day and I wondered how many frogs had gone down that slender neck since I last saw him.
Top Left: A male Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) with a piece of bread that I thought was way too large to swallow but he managed it. Top Middle: A female Masked Weaver much less striking than the male. Top right: The male in a pose that can only be described as cocky! Middle: The weaver birds are very industrious and also quite entertaining. This male Masked Weaver and three females are polishing some crumbs we put out. Bottom Left: When viewed from a little closer the female does have some colour variation and patterning but it is the males that stand out. Bottom Middle: This Cape Bunting (Emberiza capensis) was much more sedate but did not let himself be put off in the least by the slightly larger and more numerous weavers. Bottom Right: A rear view of the bunting and he really is a very dapper little bird.
Top Left: A male Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) with a piece of bread that I thought was way too large to swallow but he managed it. Top Middle: A female Masked Weaver much less striking than the male. Top right: The male in a pose that can only be described as cocky! Middle: The weaver birds are very industrious and also quite entertaining. This male Masked Weaver and three females are polishing some crumbs we put out. Bottom Left: When viewed from a little closer the female does have some colour variation and patterning but it is the males that stand out. Bottom Middle: This Cape Bunting (Emberiza capensis) was much more sedate but did not let himself be put off in the least by the slightly larger and more numerous weavers. Bottom Right: A rear view of the bunting and he really is a very dapper little bird.
Top Left to Top Right: A male Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis) in various poses and he did not seem in the least put out by the presence of the masked weaver. Middle: The male Cape Weaver and three females but I cannot accurately distinguish between the females of the Cape and the masked weavers. Bottom Left and Bottom Middle: I couldn’t resist two more shots of this very confident an alert little fellow. Bottom Right: More female weavers, but once again I am at a loss to accurately distinguish between the two species.
Top Left to Top Right: A male Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis) in various poses and he did not seem in the least put out by the presence of the masked weaver. Middle: The male Cape Weaver and three females but I cannot accurately distinguish between the females of the Cape and the masked weavers. Bottom Left and Bottom Middle: I couldn’t resist two more shots of this very confident an alert little fellow. Bottom Right: More female weavers, but once again I am at a loss to accurately distinguish between the two species.
Top Left: This chap visited us at breakfast time and is a member of the Gnaphosidae family of arachnids, commonly known as spiders. I think it belongs in the genus Zelotes and is Zelotes fuligineus. They are non-venomous ground dwelling spiders that do not spin webs as such but at best silk sack. Top Middle: This was a bit of a surprise, the track of a Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) I found one set of tracks in soft mud and another in older hardened mud. Top Right: Although spring, the traditional flower time for the Karoo, is over and summer is advancing at a pace the fairly good late rains have extended the flowering period of many of the plants. Unlike Namaqualand and most of the Northern Cape, you have to get out and walk to appreciate the flowers. Especially the geophytes (bulbous plants) are well hidden until you almost fall over them but the effort is really well worth your while. This is Felicia filifolia commonly known as Draaibossie still making a nice show. Middle: This is the sort of tranquil setting one finds at Leeuwenbosch. This one is taken across the dam in the centre of the camp site looking westward at sunset. Bottom Left: A section of the geological map covering the Leeuwenboschfontein area. The age of the rocks spans a period of just over 100 million years and is all marine sediment laid down in a body of water known as the Agulhas Sea. There should be marine fossils if one looks carefully and possibly fish and plant remains in the higher slopes toward the tops of the peaks. Bottom Middle: The rock here is about 400 million years old but the white veins of quartz intruding into it are much younger and could be around 180 million years old or even slightly younger. Bottom Right: Young geology and one can clearly see the different composition of the semi-horizontal layers. The pebble laden sections indicate high volume flow and the sections in between slower, sediment laden flow. This material is thousands and not millions of years old.
Top Left: This chap visited us at breakfast time and is a member of the Gnaphosidae family of arachnids, commonly known as spiders. I think it belongs in the genus Zelotes and is Zelotes fuligineus. They are non-venomous ground dwelling spiders that do not spin webs as such but at best silk sack. Top Middle: This was a bit of a surprise, the track of a Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) I found one set of tracks in soft mud and another in older hardened mud. Top Right: Although spring, the traditional flower time for the Karoo, is over and summer is advancing at a pace the fairly good late rains have extended the flowering period of many of the plants. Unlike Namaqualand and most of the Northern Cape, you have to get out and walk to appreciate the flowers. Especially the geophytes (bulbous plants) are well hidden until you almost fall over them but the effort is really well worth your while. This is Felicia filifolia commonly known as Draaibossie still making a nice show. Middle: This is the sort of tranquil setting one finds at Leeuwenbosch. This one is taken across the dam in the centre of the camp site looking westward at sunset. Bottom Left: A section of the geological map covering the Leeuwenboschfontein area. The age of the rocks spans a period of just over 100 million years and is all marine sediment laid down in a body of water known as the Agulhas Sea. There should be marine fossils if one looks carefully and possibly fish and plant remains in the higher slopes toward the tops of the peaks. Bottom Middle: The rock here is about 400 million years old but the white veins of quartz intruding into it are much younger and could be around 180 million years old or even slightly younger. Bottom Right: Young geology and one can clearly see the different composition of the semi-horizontal layers. The pebble laden sections indicate high volume flow and the sections in between slower, sediment laden flow. This material is thousands and not millions of years old.
Top: This is a photograph of the sky in the vicinity of the Large Magellanic cloud. The lighter misty patch at rust left of centre to the left is the Large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: This is time lapse taken of the area just to the left of the South Celestial pole. The apparent tracks the stars make which seem to indicate movement are actually tracks caused by the Earth rotating and, of course, us with it.
Top: This is a photograph of the sky in the vicinity of the Large Magellanic cloud. The lighter misty patch at rust left of centre to the left is the Large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: This is time lapse taken of the area just to the left of the South Celestial pole. The apparent tracks the stars make which seem to indicate movement are actually tracks caused by the Earth rotating and, of course, us with it.

 

I trust you enjoyed this brief photographic visit to Leeuwenboschfontein and hope to see you there at some time and to have the opportunity to introduce you to the wonders of the night sky.

Orion, an appropriately named potential stargazing destination: March 2015

A farm north of Sutherland with potential for affordable stargazing.

Sutherland is a problem for amateur astronomers because, although it is quite correctly considered to be the astronomy capital of South Africa, there are no facilities in the town for amateur astronomers to indulge in their passion. All the farms around Sutherland are potential observing sites and some farmers, like Nicol van der Merwe on Blesfontein, have already capitalized on this potential.

A panoramic view from the top of the small hill immediately behind the house which offers the best site for setting up telescopes
A panoramic view from the top of the small hill immediately behind the house which offers the best site for setting up telescopes. One can drive up from the house (about 300 m) to here.
This site is right next to the first one and both are situated in low walled, disused sheep kraals. The walls are just high enough to afford protection from the wind,
This site is right next to the first one and both are situated in low walled, disused sheep kraals. The walls are just high enough to offer some protection from the wind but not high enough to hamper viewing.

Albertus Jordaan farms on Matjesfontein about 35 km from Sutherland on the road to Calvinia and Albertus and his wife Ester have also recognized the astronomy potential of their farm. Those of you who visit Sutherland regularly will no doubt have seen Die Trommel also known, tongue in the cheek, as the Sutherland Mall. Go here to see more information about Die Trommel. Ester is the owner of that interesting establishment. Anyway, under the appropriate name of Orion, Ester and Albertus have established a self-catering facility on their farm. It is a large house with three bedrooms and a fully equipped kitchen and all the necessary bathroom and toilet facilities, as well as electricity. It will sleep eight comfortably and 10 with a bit of effort. I think going there is well worth the effort if you want to do some serious and undisturbed observing over an extended period.

This panoramic view shows the farmyard which could also be used if one did not want to drive up the hill to the sheep kraals
This panoramic view shows the farmyard which could also be used if one did not want to drive up the hill to the sheep kraals
Top left: The signpost at the entrance to the farm.  From here it is about 300 m to the farmstead. Top right. A view of the house from the northwest. Bottom left. View of the house from roughly due west.  Bottom right. A view from the house to the north and the sheep kraals can just be seen to the far right more or less in the middle of the photograph
Top left: The signpost at the entrance to the farm. From here it is about 300 m to the farmstead.
Top right. A view of the house from the northwest.
Bottom left. View of the house from roughly due west.
Bottom right. A view from the house to the north and the stone wall of the sheep kraals can just be seen against the skyline to the far right more or less in the middle of the photograph against that small strip of cloud.

The property is situated at -33°13’03”, 20°30’46”E & 1317m and interested parties or persons can contact Lynnette at foster.lynnette@gmail.com or on 084 512 9866. I would be unfair not to point out that fairly long sections of the road to the farm are very corrugated or as the locals say – sinkplaat!  Lynnette and I made it there and back in the Vito and the key to survival is to drive slowly, very slowly, over these sections. Slow means less than 20 km per hour. At that speed, you will also have time to admire the magnificent dolerite hills and boulders you pass through. Pack your telescope carefully and it will be fine, proof of which is the fact that we had the 12” Dobby in the Vito on that trip and it survived. On the way back to Sutherland there is a nice, if somewhat distant, view to the east of the SAAO site and SALT’s iconic shape.

Geology talk at Brackenfell Library: March 2015

Once upon a time, in the  distant past when the Western Cape was young ….

A tale of why everything isn’t just flat everywhere

The talk, which lasted for just under an hour, was attended by a small group of people and afterward, there was coffee, courtesy of the Brackenfell library and some discussion on the topic.

A view from the listeners angle
A view from the listeners angle
The audience: John Skinner, David Skinner, James du Toit, Marlene van Niekerk, <arlene le Roux, Susie Thorburn, Marie Eygelaar, Maida Ackerman, Rentia Rabe, Billy Brits, Errol Swanepoel
The smallish audience: John Skinner, David Skinner, James du Toit, Marlene van Niekerk, Marlene le Roux, Susie Thorburn, Marie Eygelaar, Maida Ackerman, Rentia Rabe, Billy Brits, Errol Swanepoel
Coffee and talk afterwards. The Moon? I just added that for the fun of it.
Coffee and talk afterwards. The Moon? I just added that for the fun of it.

Talk at the Hermanus Astronomy Centre – 02 October 2014

Once upon a time when the Western Cape was young …

A tale about why everything isn’t just flat everywhere.

On Thursday 02nd of October Lynnette, Snorre and I set out for Hermanus.  The first port of call was Lee’s new place in Sandbaai where Snorre was confined to his carry box, because we were uncertain what the reception from Lee’s three resident felines would be. All went very well but, just to be on the safe side, we confined Snorre to Lee’s spare bedroom when the three of us left to have supper with Pierre de Villiers, the chairman of the Hermanus Centre.

The three resident "Moon Cats"at Lee's place
The three resident “Moon Cats” at Lee’s place

After a pleasant meal at Lemon Butta and some impromptu whale watching we headed out to the SANSA (South African National Space Agency).  They are housed in the buildings of the erstwhile Hermanus Magnetic Observatory.

The whale festival was in full swing at Hermanus and the whales  were there doing their thing
The Hermanus Whale Festival was in full swing at Hermanus and the whales were there doing their thing
Just a puff of vapour and a section of  its back hints at the presence of the whale
Just a puff of vapour and a section of its back hints at the presence of the whale
A big splash of its giant tail
A big splash of its giant tail
A last glimpse of the tail as the whale dives
A last glimpse of the tail as the whale dives

Pierre introduced me and I then presented my talk. This covered the geological origins of the Western Cape and I took the audience in a time journey from the deposition of the sediments forming the Malmesbury shales in the Adamastor Ocean through to the present. Along the way we stopped of briefly to look at the formation of the Agulhas Sea, sedimentation of the material that forms the Cape Fold Belt Mountains, the folding and uplifting of those sediments and eventually the breakup of Gondwana and subsequent erosion down to its present day appearance.

Pierre de Villiers introducing me
Pierre de Villiers introducing me
The title slide of my talk
The title slide of my talk
Members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk
Some of the members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk
More members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk
More members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk

After the talk we stopped off at Lee’s place for coffee and to collect Snorre.  Then we headed home to Brackenfell and packed for the weekend’s activities at the Makadas Country Festival in Touw’s River.

Snorre in his "I am taking over" pose at Lee's place.
Snorre in his “I am taking over” pose at Lee’s place.

Down on Earth and up in the Sky in the Karoo

Field trip with Dr Juri van den Heever and the honours students from the Department of Botany & Zoology at the University of Stellenbosch.  17 – 22 March 2014

This is a diary of the six day event with lots of pictures to illustrate the text.  I must first give some background about the tour and its origins to put all readers in the picture.  Juri van den Heever, the architect of the tour, moved from the South African Museum to the Department of Zoology at Stellenbosch in 1987.  In 1988 he took the first of these tours as part of the Honours course and has been taking them ever since.  I had been with the Department of Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University since 1985 and, as Juri and I had been at school together, we were able to renew our friendship when he came to Stellenbosch.  This led to him asking me if I would like to participate in the tours and fill in on the Biochemistry of plants as well as some other aspects.  The tour provides the students with information on Geology, Vertebrate anatomy, Palaeontology, Plants and plant usage, Insects, Birds, Ecology of the areas visited, History, Culture, Geography, Astronomy and, last but not least, the opportunity to participate in discussions on science in general and the philosophy of science and being a scientist.

So, from around 1994 or so, we have been in this together, although I skipped one or two due to pressure of work at Biochemistry or some other immovable commitment.  Over the years we have also taken members of the public, high school learners and fellow colleagues at the University on these tours, whenever there have been seats open in the vehicles.  These “outsiders” have very often made valuable contributions to the range and depth of the topics touched on during the tour.  One interesting feature of these trips over the years has been the large number of our University colleagues who have annually committed themselves very enthusiastically to participate in the next trip only to pull out at the last minute.  This year we had 14 students from the Department of Botany and Zoology and one member of the public, Peter Müller, a retired Wood Technologist.

Monday 17th March

Just after 06:30 on Monday the 17th of March, Lynnette dropped me off at the University’s vehicle park where Juri was already inspecting the two Toyotas and completing the paperwork.  We hooked on the two trailers and shortly before 07:00 we were parked outside the Department and the students could begin to load their gear, the supplies and other equipment for the week.  Shortly after 07:00 Juri gave the first briefing and then we embarked and headed out of Stellenbosch toward the West Coast Fossil Park near Langebaanweg.  Our route took us through Malmesbury, which has a tepid, sulphur chloride spring that once attracted many ailing Capetonians to a Sanatorium that was built there.  A shopping centre now covers the site.

After turning off the N7 onto the R45, our route took us across the undulating hills of weathered Malmesbury shale that form the wheat fields of the Swartland (Black Land), These were once covered in Renosterbos (Elytropappus rhinocerotis), which is the signature plant on weathered shale and mudstone throughout our area.  Its dark colouring, when seen from a distance, was probably the origin of the name Swartland.  Once past the Moorreesburg turnoff, the countryside gradually changed to alluvial sand covered in restios interspersed with small and medium sized shrubs.  Just after the small settlement of Koperfontein we passed the brand new 66 MW Hopefield wind farm owned by Umoya Energy.  The farm became operational in February 2014 and develops sufficient energy to power 70 000 low-income homes or 29 000 medium-income homes, when the wind blows. Go here to read a short article on this wind farm.

The R45 bypasses the town of Hopefield, a fact which has turned the town into a virtual ghost town. Between Hopefield and the Air Force Base at Langebaanweg, the markers of the pipeline bringing water to the West Coast from Voëlvlei dam can be seen at intervals on one’s right and, shortly after Langebaanweg, we turned off the R45 into the Park.  The Park was originally a Chemfos phosphate mine, but after the closure of the mine in 1993, it was declared a National Monument Site in 1996.  The Park, now covering about 700ha, was officially launched in 1998. It is currently under the control of the Iziko Museums of Cape Town, and is managed by Pippa Haarhoff.  It has recently been declared a National Heritage Site.  The following site gives more information on the Park.  The fossils date back about 5.2 million years to the late Miocene/early Pliocene era.  Go here for more information on this exceptional area.  After some refreshments at the visitors centre we got back into the vehicles and followed the guide, Wendy Wentzel, down to the dig site.

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Wendy briefing us on the background of the area and the dig site
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The group lined up listening to Wendy. Angus is to the left out of the picture and Peter to the right also out of the picture

The dig site is in the old ‘E’ Quarry area and displays an astounding array of fossils.  Wendy ran us through an informative description of the various animals found at the site, the conditions thought to have existed when the animals died and the methods used to uncover the fossils.  The majority of the bones visible seem to be those of the short-necked giraffe or Sivathere but there is evidence of wales, seals, various elephants and different sabre toothed cats as well.  The only bear south of the Sahara was also found at the Park in the smaller dig site adjacent to the larger one visited by the general public.  Shark teeth found here are evidence for the existence of a behemoth that would have dwarfed the infamous cinematic Jaws.  After the talk we moved outside to the sorting trays where everyone had a go at finding the fossil remains of the smaller animals such as mice, frogs and moles.  Then back to the vehicles to return to the visitors centre for a quick bite to eat, something to drink and a visit to the essential amenities before departing on the next leg of our journey.

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Dismay, amazement and indifference? I do not really think so but you’d best ask Claire, Benjamin and Dale yourself
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5.2 million year old carnage. The bottle does not date back that far
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A reconstruction of the Southern African bear. Check out the size comparison with a human
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The short necked giraffe or Sivathere compared to a human. This was a big animal and, judging by the bones here quite common too
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Wendy instructing the group on how to find the really small stuff

We retraced or route past Hopefield and shortly after Koperfontein we turned left to Moorreesburg.  On that stretch of road we had an excellent view of the ancient termite mounds or “heuweltjies” that give the fields such a lumpy appearance.  These mounds were already alluded to by the 18th century Astronomer and Geodesist, Nicolas-Louis De La Caille.  Go here to read the section in Dr. Ian Glass’s book on De la Caille. For a more recent and scientific coverage of the topic you can go here to read an article published by the Department of Soil Science at the University of Stellenbosch.  We passed through Moorreesburg which considers itself the “heart” of the Swartland wheat industry and actually boasts a wheat industry museum, one of only three in the world.

We then headed for the twin towns of Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel.  Just outside the former we passed the cement factory of PPC (Pretoria Portland Cement) where one can visit the restored house in which General Jan Christian Smuts was born.  Smuts, educated at the Victoria College, later the University of Stellenbosch, and Christ’s College at Cambridge University, went on to become State Attorney of the Transvaal Republic, a successful general in the Anglo-South African War and eventually Prime minister of South Africa.  Daniel Francois Malan, the first Prime Minister to actively apply the basic principles of institutionalized apartheid after the 1948 elections, was also born in Riebeek West. These two towns lie on the slopes of the Kasteelberg.  From these two towns one has a sweeping view of the Northward tending arm Cape Fold Mountains from the Limietberg behind Wellington through the Winterhoek west of Tulbagh and on into the Cederberg where the peak of Cederberg Sneeukop can just be made out.

We left Kasteelberg behind, crossed the Berg River and just after passing the hamlet of Hermon, we turned left on the R46.  Our route took us past the blockhouse that once guarded the railway line during the Anglo-South African war and then Voëlvlei dam, one of the major sources of water for Cape Town and the West Coast before passing into Nuwekloof through which the Little Berg River exits on its way to join the Berg River several kilometers beyond the village of Gouda.  In 1739 the head and right hand of the infamous Estiénne Barbier were placed in this area after his execution as a gruesome warning to anyone contemplating an uprising against the VOC.  In Nuwekloof one can still see the dry stone wall supporting Andrew Bain’s road which was in use for more than a hundred years until it was replaced by the present road in 1968.  The road then passes into the Land of Wavern, south of Tulbagh and heads up the valley of the Little Berg river with the Witzenberg rising on the left and, on the right, the Elandsberg which is replaced by the Watervalsberg once one has crossed the watershed at Artois. It then swings to the left, passing North of Wolesely and shortly afterward entering Michell’s Pass.

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Lunch al fresco in Michell’s Pass on a section of Andrew Bain’s old road
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The after lunch lecture in Michell’s Pass

In Michell’s Pass we stopped on the only section of Andrew Bain’s road that has been preserved.  Out came the tables and food and, while a light lunch was enjoyed, Juri spoke at length about Bain, the founding of the town of Ceres and the true origins of the town’s name as well as the tremendous importance of the pass at the time it was constructed.  After lunch we packed up before inspecting the impressive dry stone walls of the old road and then drove the last bit of the pass into Ceres where we filled up with fuel and everyone had an opportunity to visit a small supermarket.  Our next stop was the pharmacy to so that Benjamin could buy medication for the Otitis Media he had developed.  We finally left Ceres heading for Eselfontein, the farm of Gideon and Janine Malherbe where we would look for fossils in a quarry and spend the night in their Ecocamp.  Driving out to the farm the road ran across extensive beds of Bokkeveld sediments with the Skurweberg’s younger sandstone layers sloping down under them from our right.  In the distance on our left were the cliffs of Gydoberg and the Waboomsberg rising high above the northern edge of the Ceres valley.

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The quarry on Eselfontein with typical Renosterbos veld in the background and students in the foreground
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Benjamin’s Trilobite find.
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The campfire at the Ecocamp on Eselfontein with the pointers to the Southern Cross prominent in the night sky in the background

We spent time in the quarry giving everyone the opportunity to experience the thrill of finding a fossil.  That special feeling when you crack open the rock and see it, knowing you are not only the first human but the only human to ever have seen the creature that has been entombed in the sediment for several hundred million years.  Many shell imprints were found from a variety of families as well as several fragments of trilobites.  The prize find of the afternoon was Benjamin’s trilobite.  Fairly late in the afternoon we packed up and drove up the fairly rigged road to the Ecocamp where we unpacked and set about preparing supper.  Benjamin and Dale did their first of several stints at the fire on the trip, grilling the chicken to perfection.  Benjamin’s approach is that he would rather cook every evening than wash dishes.  Juri, Claire and Sheree’s potato salad went down very well too.  Unforeseen problems with the water supply meant that we all had to wash in the adjacent mountain stream.  There was very little interest in astronomy as most people were pretty tired after the long day but, nevertheless, the Moon, just one day past full moon, rising behind the pine forest made quite a spectacular site.

Tuesday 18th March

At 07:00 Juri started the day by getting everybody up and moving in the direction of breakfast after which we packed up, packed everything into the vehicles and the trailers and set off on the first leg of day two.  This entailed a short drive in the direction of Lakenvlei dam, then past Matroosberg to Okkie Geldenhuys’s farm Matjiesrivier, where we collected our annual allocation of peaches.  With the sandstone of the Cape fold mountains behind us, but still standing on Bokkeveld sediments, the view to the north of the farm gave us our first view of the Witteberg sediments.

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Early morning at Eselfontein with the moon peeking between the branches of a Protea bush and the morning sun touching the mountains in the background.
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Juri delivers the morning talk on what the day has in store for everyone
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We start moving out of the Ecocamp on Eselfontein
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The historic homestead on Matjiesrivier

Shortly after leaving the farm we picked up the R46 again and headed East toward the N1 and our first fossil stop of the day near the game farm Aquila.  On the way there we passed Verkeerdevlei, the original water supply for Touws River and a forlorn looking Dakota aircraft parked amongst some scraggy looking pines in a military training area.  About 300m before reaching Aquila, we pulled over and got out to look for Zoophycos, one of the few fossils one finds readily in the Witteberg sediments.  After finding some examples and making sure everyone knew what it looked like we departed.  As we drove away, we had a good view of Aquila’s huge automated solar energy installation that produces 60 kW of electricity by means of a Concentrator Photovoltaic system.  The area around the solar panels also houses the lion rehabilitation pens as a deterrent to would be thieves.  This system forms part of an eventual 50 MW installation currently under construction.  Go here to read more about this exciting installation.

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Roadside talk on the Witteberg sediments and the fossils the group might expect to find there
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The panels of the Solar installation just across the road from the Game Farm, Aquila.
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They are probably wondering where to start

Our next stop was Touws River for acquiring refreshments and use of the amenities and then we were off again headed for the Logan Cemetery on the N1.  Although the mountains around us were all Witteberg deposits, we were soon driving on the frist of the Ecca deposits and about 10 km north of the town the first patch of Dwyka tillite, a glacial deposit, appeared to the left of the road.  Also fairly abundant along the N1 was the yellowish Kraalbos (Galena Africana), a pioneer shrub that takes over in disturbed or overgrazed areas.  It can, however, proliferate to the point where it suppresses the regrowth of other plants.  As we progressed in the direction of Matjiesfontein, we saw more and more  Dwyka tillite on either side of the road and the Witteberg Mountains to the south also became more and more prominent.  When parked at the Logan cemetery one can see good examples of Ecca, Witteberg and Dwyka.

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The group gathered around Andrew Wauchope’s gravestone. An identical one was erected at his birthplace in Scotland
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Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope was a much admired officer in the British Army
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Jimmy and Emma Logan’s gravestones
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A memorial from friends and colleagues to John Grant who was killed in an accident during construction work on the railway

At the cemetery Juri discussed the mystery surrounding the burial of Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope (known as Red Mick) in this spot.  He was the commander of the 3rd (Highland) Brigade at the Battle of Magersfontein on the 11th of December 1899 in the Anglo-South-African War and was killed in the opening minutes of the battle.  His wife Jane gave instructions that he should be buried where he fell – at Magersfontein – and yet he lies here.  Also buried here is James Douglas Logan, the founder of the little town of Matjiesfontein, owner of the farm Tweedside and Member of the Cape Parliament, his wife and several family members.  A little further away is the grave of George Alfred Lohmann a phenomenal English cricketer of the late 1800’s who, despite several trips to recuperate at Matjiesfontein, eventually lost his battle against tuberculosis.  After taking a look at the obelisk commemorating Wauchope higher up on the hill and examining the Dwyka tillite on the hillside, we left for Sutherland.

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Juri and the students gathered around the memorial commemorating Andrew Wauchope. Note the pointy outcrops of Dwyka tillite on the hillside
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George Alfred Lohmann’s gravestone
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A most appropriate symbolic indication that a great cricketer had finally been bowled out
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In memory of private Doyle of the Royal Scots Greys. One wonders how many of these grave markers are scattered across the world commemorating young men who died “For King/Queen and country”

On the way to Sutherland we took note of the various sizes of the drop-stones in the cuttings through the Dwyka tillite and also pointed out the various outcrops of the Whitehill Formation, a distinctive stratigraphic unit near the base of the Ecca group and stressed its importance as a repository of Mesosaurus, fish and insect fossils from the early Permian.  As we progressed northward we crossed the Collingham Formation, a section of volcanic ash and eventually arrived amongst the Beaufort or Karoo sediments which were deposited on land by huge meandering rivers in a gigantic basin that stretched right across the present day South Africa.  At a deep cutting about one km after crossing the Tanqua River, we stopped to look at the exposed mudstone and sandstone beds so typical of the Karoo sediments and also to explain to the students how the early Karoo Basin was filled in.

In Sutherland we visited Mr Eddie Marais, who in his youth had the privilege of collecting with Dr L. D. Boonstra.  Mr Marais has a collection of artefacts that Juri used to explain to the students what they could expect in the field the following day and how to distinguish between calciferous nodules and actual bone.  He also took the opportunity to discuss the development of the Karoo fauna and explained the gradual transition of true reptiles to mammal-like reptiles and later to true mammals which could be observed in the fossil record of the Karoo sediments.  After enjoying the refreshments graciously supplied by Mrs Marais, we left to refuel the vehicles.

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Everything nicely set out by Mrs Marais in her garden and all we now needed were the people to enjoy the spread
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The pet graveyard in the Marais’s garden; pet rooster on the left followed by three cats

On our way to Fraserburg we passed the SAAO site where SALT and all the other South African telescopes are situated.  On arrival at Fraserburg, we unloaded and Karin showed us to our rooms and as soon as the children in the hostel had left the dining hall, we moved into the kitchen to prepare supper.  The end result of the kitchen team was a delicious pasta dish.  After supper there was some astronomy discussion with various members of the group and most of the group went to bed in preparation for a long day on Wednesday.

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Pasta supper on the first evening in Huis Retief, the School hostel in Fraserburg

Wednesday 19th March

We were in the dining room shortly after eight to have breakfast and then we set off for the local museum which is housed in the old Pastorie of the Dutch Reformed Church.  The very friendly person in charge of the museum, Don Pedro Malan welcomed us at the museum and Juri set about giving a detailed explanation of the fossils on display.  His explanation also covered the development of the various groups of animals that had been present in the Karoo basin during the period when it was filling up. After his talk everyone had the opportunity to look more closely at the fossil display and look around the museum in general before we set of to Droogvoetsfontein, where we met up with Mr Pieter Conradie.  We all piled onto and into his pickup for a trip into the veld and then back to our vehicles which Juri and I then drove to the next stop while Pieter ferried the students there.  Juri and I then rejoined the crowd on the pickup for the trip to where he had found a fossil, or at least bits of a fossil.  As with many of the fossils in the Karoo lying exposed on the surface the elements take their toll and this one had not fared any better.  All that was left, were a few scraps of nondescript bone not worth collecting and the surroundings also suggested that these had probably washed in from elsewhere in any case.  Back on the pickup and back to the vehicles for a short drive before we dispersed in all directions to look for the elusive fossils.  After about two hours I had found some pieces of rib bone and others had found another badly weathered fossil on the slope of a hill.

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The Old Pastorie Museum in Fraserburg
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Jurie running through the fossil display in the museum and explaining the relationships between reptiles, dinosaurs and mammal-like reptiles

 

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Benjamin and Dale discussing the day’s programme, or are they planning the evening’s braai?
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Pieter Conradie (snr) and Johannes closing the gate. Juri and I still had to clamber aboard
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The immensity of the Karoo dwarfs members of the group as they scour the veld for fossils
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Some members of the team found something but, unfortunately, not worth collecting
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Lunch is served under the trees on the farm Dagbreek

Back to the vehicles and off we went to Pieter’s farm, Dagbreek, where we prepared a light lunch in the shade of a tree.  The new-born lambs were an immediate hit with the students.  After lunch we set off again, but this time with Pieter on his motorcycle leading the way.  After an interesting drive, we arrived at the next farm, Onderplaas, disembarked and set off on foot down a riverbed with scattered pools of water and muddy patches amongst the grass to trap the unwary.  What was left of this fossil was still firmly embedded in the rock, but most of it had been worn away by the perennial flooding of the river.  Disappointed we trudged back to the farmyard, said our goodbyes and set off for our next contact, also Pieter Conradie, the son of the first Pieter Conradie.  He and his wife Marisa were waiting at the appointed place with their three lively children and our prickly pears.  Pieter excitedly led us up a hill to look at his fossil, which unfortunately turned out to be a collection of calciferous nodules; his disappointment was quite tangible.

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A fossil at last on the farm Onderplaas but also to far gone to make it worth trying to take it out

Our group did a quick recce, found nothing and then set off after Pieter Jnr for refreshments at his farm Middelfontein a few kilometres down the road.  Refreshments, in addition to cool drinks, consisted of chilled prickly pears, ice cream and various delicious liqueurs to be used as toppings.  I, for one, made an absolute pig of myself with the prickly pears and ate 50 of them!  After some small talk with the Pieter and his wife and their three cats, we said goodbye and headed back to Fraserberg, anxious to get there before the shops closed as the beer supply was running low.  We rounded the day off with a congenial braai, once again executed by Dale and Benjamin in a masterly fashion.  We did some astronomy too for those who were interested and then went to bed.

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Chilled prickly pears and ice cream on the farm Middelfontein courtesy of Pieter Conradie (jnr) and his wife Marisa
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A braai back at the school hostel rounds of the day

Thursday 20th March

Today is the autumn equinox when the sun is exactly over the equator on its way north and the day and night should be the same length.  It also signals the start of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and spring in the Northern Hemisphere.  These facts did not really seem to impress anyone, so I didn’t push the matter.  Anyway, we were packed up and finished with breakfast shortly after eight – at least most of us were!  Then we set out on the Williston road to the palaeosurface on the farm Gansefontein.  It is very sad to see the systematic deterioration of this site when we visit it every year.  All Coenie De Beer’s efforts since he took a month’s unpaid leave from the Geological Survey in Pretoria 25 years ago and came down here on his motorcycle to map and measure the then freshly exposed surface, have been in vein.  Well, not quite in vain, because an insurance company donated money to put a fence around the site and put up a notice board.  What is really needed is a building to cover the existing site and money to uncover more of the surface around the existing site, but as things stand now, the non-preservation of this site is actually a disgrace for South Africa.

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Breakfast discussion on the last morning in Fraserburg and Juri explains how high we will have to climb
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The palaeosurface on the farm Gansefontein. The white markers outline the areas one should not walk on
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The Geological Society of Southern Africa’s notice explaining what may be seem on the palaeosurface
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Juri interprets the bones. Sorry, that should be traces and tracks
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A great, great, great, great, great, great, great – and then a lot more greats – grandchild of the animals that made some of the tracks at the palaeosurface

After the visit to the Palaeosurface we made a quick stop for biltong and dried sausage and then set off down the R356 toward the Theekloof Pass and our next destination.  Theekloof Pass is potentially one of the most spectacular passes, if not in the country, then most certainly in the Western Cape Province.  After the obligatory stop for photos half way down, we continued our descent into the lower regions of the Karoo.  The pass also affords one an unprecedented view of the layered nature of the Karoo sediments with their alternating sandstone and mudstone layers, broken by dolerite sills and dykes in many places.  Upon arrival at Rooiheuwel, the farm of Flip and Marge Vivier, we were enthusiastically welcomed by the Jack Russels and an overzealous Boxer before being taken inside for a welcome cool drink.  Once that was done, we set off to look at a fossil on a neighbouring farm, which was “just around the corner”. Those of you who do not know the Karoo, should beware as this phrase could mean anything from 15 to, as we have experienced, 40 or more kilometres.

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Tafelkop and Spitzkop with the vast expanse of the Karoo spread out southward as seen from a vantage point in Theekloofpass
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A view up the pass with some of the group members perched on the edge of the kloof
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The house of Flip and Marge Vivier on the farm Rooiheuwel
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I found a new species of goat – a Zebra Goat

When we finally stopped and disembarked, Flip indicated that the fossil was “just over there”, pointing at a fairly distant hill on the other side of a dry riverbed, so of we went,  The fossil was also a disappointment.  Almost definitely a Pareiasaurus, but apparently lying on its left side with the tail, pelvic girdle, right limbs and ribs all missing.  The head was very probably also no longer there, so we decided to leave it there to continue its losing battle with time and erosion.  Back to the vehicles and to Rooiheuwel for a quick lunch and then a short drive to a place where we could get into the veldt to look for fossils again.  Once again no luck, so we drove off to explore for likely fossil sites.  One problem on this farm is that the vegetation cover is quite dense and the potential fossil areas are well hidden until you are right on top of them and finding traces of bone would then be doubly difficult too.  We returned to the farm, said goodbye and drove to Merweville, our overnight stop.  Juri’s vehicle was running low on fuel so he drove quite slowly to conserve what he had, but eventually we got there.

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Juri pronouncing judgement on the fossil remains of a Pareiasaurus.on the farm De Krans
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Juri holding a single vertebra and one can clearly see how badly it has been eroded. The bone surface has been removed exposing the spongelike inner structure
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Our ever hopeful band of searchers combs the hillside on the off chance they will find a skull or perhaps a tooth or two
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In the far distance Tafelkop and Spitzkop which lie just below the Theekloofpass
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Rule in fossil hunter’s guidebook: It always takes longer to get back to the vehicles from the site than it took to get to the site from the vehicles when you didn’t find anything
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The usual lunch in the shade of a tree, but this time on the farm Rooiheuwel
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Yet once again we return empty handed
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Juri and our host on Rooiheuwel, Flip Vivier, in a serious discussion
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Sunset from the grounds of the school hostel in Merweville
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Beware! In Merweville they have thorns, lots and lots of them

At Huis Mervia, the local school hostel, we unloaded and Juri set off to find the local parson of the Dutch Reformed Church, who had promised the group could go up into the church tower and out onto the catwalk to admire the view.  He found him and off they went.  In the meantime, the braai-maestros were getting the fire ready for their next culinary tour de force.  As an entrée, we had slices of bread from two huge farm loaves baked by Mrs Blom, the hostel matron, and then it was Karoo lamb a la Dale and Benjamin, with onions and butternut wrapped in tin foil and grilled to perfection on the fire.  Some astronomy after supper and then most of us turned in for the night.

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Opuntia infestation, the scourge of the Karoo, on the grounds of the hostel in Merweville
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Huis Mervia, the school hostel in Merweville
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The clan is gathering for the evening’s festivities in Merweville
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Merweville and the two iconic symbols of all small Karoo towns, the windmills and the church tower

Friday 21st March

It was a public holiday which we assumed would not affect us, but it eventually did.  I went into town to refuel my vehicle, came back and had breakfast before we packed up and left to visit our fossil on Hendrik Botes’s farm Jakhalsfontein, which is spelt oddly as you can see.  Juri thinks the fossil might actually be on Vaalleegte and we should really resolve the discrepancy someday. En route we passed the turnoff to the tragic Englishman’s grave, but that story will have to wait.  Once on the farm, we unhooked the trailers for the long drive to our fossil dig site where we have been letting successive groups of students systematically excavate, what we hope is a fairly complete Pareiasaurus.  It is quite a long walk from where we park the vehicles, but once there, we rotated and some hacked away with hammers while others scoured the area for other fossils.  About two hours of hacking away and Juri decided to call it a day and head back to the vehicles.  Eventually everyone was back and aboard so we could turn round, drive back, hook up the trailers go to an unoccupied house further down the road and his house is definitely on Jakhalsfontein.  We had lunch on the veranda or, as it is called locally, the stoep.  During the lunch break, some quinces were picked under Juri’s expert tutelage so we could have stewed quinces and cream for dessert that evening.

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And into the veld once more led, as usual, by Juri. The fossil is just over that far hill
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Some hacked and some searched. Our Pareiasaurus is under that white lump of plaster of Paris in the centre of the seated group of hackers
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The Karoo is vast – have I said that before? Peter Müller is just visible centre right and in the background the blue line of the Swartberg Mountains. One can just make out the gap where Seweweekspoort is and, just to the right of that Seweweekspoort Peak and, a little further to the right of that the magical  mountain,Towerkop
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Home we go until we bring the next group in 2015, maybe
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It might be a long way to Tipperary but I think it’s further to those vehicles
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Zoomed in on Towerkop . Now see if you can find it on the previous photo
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Lunch on the stoep of the old Jakhalsfontein house

After lunch we made a quick stop at the café in Prince Albert Road and an essential pit stop for some members of the group before hitting the N1 and heading south to Laingsburg.  This took us out of the Karoo sediments and onto the Ecca which were laid down just offshore in huge estuaries.  We arrived at Laingsburg to find the liquor store open, but the supermarket closed so we had beer but no cream and we also needed sour cream for the potjiekos Dale was going to prepare for supper.  We checked some of the other obvious possibilities for cream and sour cream, but none produced the goods.  So we drove to the sports fields where we were going to spend the night in the clubhouse and, after unloading, I went and investigated one more possible source for the cream and sour cream, but that also turned out to be a dead end.  Dale had found ways to improvise his way around the sour cream, but the prospects looked grim for the stewed quinces.

It is a pity the Flood Museum commemorating the disastrous flood of 1981 was closed as I would have liked the students to see it.  If you visit Laingsburg pay the museum a visit and then drive down to the railway bridge, get out of your car and stand under the bridge.  When you look up consider the fact that, on that fateful day, the water was lapping the rails on top of the bridge before the embankment at the eastern end gave way.  Just for a moment consider the entire valley filled to that depth with churning, muddy water. It is a chilling thought I can assure you.

Dale’s potjiekos and rice was excellent.  Actually it wasn’t, it was superb!  After lots of philosophical discussions, there was some down to earth stuff too, we tidied up and went to bed.  As I was having the last conversation with Juri, before we finally went to bed, he remembered that he had forgotten to cook the quinces.  I had actually wondered about this after supper, but assumed the lack of cream was to blame.

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Hows that for camouflage
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Relaxing outside the Clubhouse at the Laingsburg Sports-fields
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The streak of light is Dale buzzing around his potjiekos in the background

Saturday 22nd March

While gathering the troops, it turned out that rather than make their own breakfast, everyone was in favour of picking up coffee and whatever from the local Wimpy and heading south as quickly as possible.  A few kilometres outside Laingsburg, we crossed into the ancient lake basin again and could clearly see the tell-tale white slopes on either side of the road.  Before long we encountered the first of the Dwyka tillite and shortly after that, the Witteberg Mountains came into sight on our left.  Just before Touws River we encountered the first of several stop-and-go sections where the National Roads Agency was undertaking extensive road works all the way down to the Hex River Pass.  Topping the rise just before the farm Kleinstraat, we had a good view of Aquila’s second solar farm with 1 500 panels, being built by the French firm, Soitec, which was nearing completion.  The installation will provide 50 MW (peak DC) power and provide a 36 MW AC output to the local grid.   This makes it one of the largest plants of its kind in the world.  Go here to read more about the installation about the installation.  You can also go to this link for more information.

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Loading up to move out from Laingsburg on the last morning
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The whole group with a high hill of Ecca sediments in the background.

From this point we were on the Bokkeveld shale again and, as we navigated the Hex Pass and skirted De Doorns and Orchard, we moved further and further into the sandstone layers of the earlier deposits.  By the time we exited the Hex River Valley we had left the Bokkeveld behind us and the sandstone layers towered high above our heads.  Shortly after leaving the Hex River Valley, we pulled into the De Wet Cooperative Winery where we traditionally stopped to sample their Muscadels and Ports.  Just across the road from the winery was an impressive hill of Malmesbury shale lifted upward by the rising magma millions of years ago.  As the magma cooled and formed granite, the heat baked the otherwise fairly crumbly shale into a hard metamorphic rock the geologists call Hornfels.  This is mined in a quarry on the Worcester side of the hill and produces the blue-grey chips ubiquitously used in road making.

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At De Wet Cooperative wine cellar. On the immediate left is a high hill of Malmesbury shale and the mountains in the background are younger sandstones of the Table Mountain group
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Sampling the fruit of the vine at De Wet Cooperative Cellar on the N1

From De Wet we took a back road via Nonna, Overhex and Aan de Doorns to Eilandia and the quarry where we hoped to find more insect fossils and perhaps a fish or too and just maybe a Mesosaurus. At the quarry Juri and I were somewhat concerned by the fact that there had been considerable excavation since our last visit, and access to the specific section that usually produced the insects, was quite precarious; in fact rather dangerous.  Apart from Juri having a rather nasty fall, it all went well.  We came away with several Notocaris imprints, a fantastic leaf imprint thanks to Robyn and section of Mesosaurus backbone courtesy of Nombuso.  A snap vote before we left decided against stopping for lunch so we would head straight back to Stellenbosch.  One got the distinct impression that the students felt it was a case of “Home James, and don’t spare the horses”.

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Final briefing of the trip from Juri before we tackle the quarry in the Whitehill Formation at Eilandia
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This is really a very tricky site to work in now that it has been escavated to an almost vertical slope
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Take the fence post just left of centre and measure three lengths of that post down from the top edge of the slope. There is a thin grey line of bentonite there. The insects are usually found just above the bentonite
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Up we go for the last dig and hack of the trip
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The exceptional leaf imprint Robyn found
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The section of Mesosaurus backbone found by Nombuso
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The circular patches caused by the termite mounds. They change the soil’s composition and structure creating micro-habitats that are preferential growth areas for specific plants. These areas then stand out against the surrounding vegetation

I stopped to take photos of the clearly visible termite mounds on the slope of a hill that we passed. Our route took us past Brandvlei dam and then through Rawsonville and Du Toit’s Kloof Pass where Juri elected to avoid the Huguenot Tunnel and drive over the pass, which is the route to take if you want to enjoy a spectacular view.  After unloading at the Department and saying all the goodbyes I went and dropped off the trailer and then delivered the vehicle to the vehicle park, where Lynnette was already waiting.  We stowed all my gear away and then went back to the Department to pick up Lona, who also lives in Brackenfell and had asked if we could give her a lift home.

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Unloading in front of the Department and 2014’s trip has come to an end
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Juri ticks off the all important hammer register as everyone hands back their geological hammers

All that was left for me to do, was to work through all 500 photos that I had taken and write this report.  The report writing was seriously disrupted by the need to complete our application for a National Science Week grant from the NRF via SAASTA.

Origin of the name of the town of Ceres.

I matriculated at Charley Hofmeyr High School in Ceres and something that has puzzled me for many years is the inability, or possibly unwillingness, of the townsfolk in general, Wikipedia, and the tourism industry in the town to get the story about the origin of the town’s name right. I should possibly not be surprised as the incorrect derivation of the name is also alluded to in the otherwise very reputable publication, New Dictionary of South African Place Names, by Peter E. Draper (2004), published by Jonathan Ball.  The matter of the town’s name has been addressed before now by Dr Jurie van den Heever and Mr Jerry Levine, but it keeps raising its misinformed head, so I am going to attempt once more to set the record straight.

It is, in fact, quite correct to say that generally the name Ceres has its origin in the classic mythology and it’s pantheon of deities.  The town of Ceres in the Western Cape was, however, definitely not named in honour of the Roman fertility goddess, but rather after a town in Scotland of the same name and that town was, in all probability, not even named in honour of the particular female deity!  Allow me to elaborate on why it is very, very unlikely that the local town of Ceres was named after the lady in question and, to do this I will make extensive use of the excellent material researched by Dr Jurie van den Heever and Mr Jerry Levine as well as my own research.

At the time of the founding of the town of Ceres, two of the prominent people involved with roads and in particular the construction of Michell’s Pass were Andrew Geddes Bain (the well-known road builder and, more specifically the builder of Michell’s pass in 1848) and Charles Davidson Bell (Surveyor General of the Cape at that time).  Bain and Bell both hailed from Scotland which would have given them a common bond.  Bain was born in Thurso, in the far north, in May 1797 while Bell hailed form Crail, further to the south, where he was born on October the 22nd 1813.  It is important to note that Crail is about 9 km from the Scottish town of Ceres, which was renowned in Roman times for producing Durham wheat of such a high quality, that it was reserved for the tables of the Caesar and other Roman nobility.  The wheat connection is particularly important as the area around the new town of Ceres was, at that time, also known for the production of high quality wheat.  It is, however, distinctly possible that the Scottish Ceres might not in fact have been named after the Roman deity at all.  The Latin word Syrs means marshland and this might be the origin of the town’s name because the men of the village played a prominent part at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when the English knights in their heavy armour and chargers became bogged down in the marshes (“Discovering Fife” by Raymond Lamont Brown, John Donald Publishers Ltd., 1992).  The marsh connection is, as we shall see later, also of interest concerning the South African town of Ceres.  In Gaelic Sair means “west” and very probably referred to the fact that Ceres lay to the west of St. Andrews.

The name of Ceres in Scotland is somewhat of a mystery and I quote from a source on the town. “There is much argument as to the origin of the name “Ceres”.  Was it a survival of the Roman invasion because of being identical with the name of the “Goddess of Harvest”?  However, the spelling was not always the same. Before the 17th century it was “Seres”, whilst the oldest known form is “Syres”.  St. Cyrus, to whom the Church there was dedicated, is also given credit for the name. Another suggestion is the Latin word “syrs”, which means marshy ground near a running stream.  There is also the possibility that the name is derived from that of the “Syras” family.”  The Syras-family connection seems, in recent years, to have been largely discounted.

However, back to Ceres in South Africa and a further point to take note of, which clearly points to the involvement of Bain in particular in the founding of Ceres, is the fact that the first six streets of Ceres were named after six prominent members of the Royal Society, i.e. Charles Lyell (Geologist), William Buckland (Cleric, Geologist & Palaeontologist), Gideon Mantell (Obstetrician, Geologist & Palaeontologist), Sir Roderick Murchison (Geologist), Sir Richard Owen (Biologist, Comparative Anatomist & Palaeontologist who first used the term “Dinosauria”) and John Phillips (Geologist).  Mantell became Voortrekker in 1938 and Buckland was renamed Van Riebeek in 1952.  Misspelling turned Phillip into Phillips, which did not spare Lyell or the original Mantell either.  These names appear on all the early maps of the town as well as the title deeds of the first erven sold and traded in the town.  It is a generally accepted fact that Bain was the founder of Geology and Palaeontology in South Africa and, more specifically, that it was Lyell’s epoch making work Elements of Geology that brought this about.  According to Bain himself he read it and was “smitten”.  As the names of the first streets in Ceres were all famous British scientists (Geologists, Anatomists or Palaeontologists) of that period, it does not require extensive mental gymnastics to deduce that Bain was almost certainly the only person who would have been sufficiently aware of their existence (and importance) to have given their names to the streets of the new town. Bell might, admittedly, also have had some knowledge of these erudite scholars.  It should be noted that Murchison Street originally appears as Ure Street and was later changed to Murchison (date uncertain).  Andrew Ure was a Scottish doctor, scholar, chemist and member of the Royal Society; in other words fitting company for the other academics after whom streets were named.

Ceres was at the heart of a very conservative, Dutch Reformed, (and very probably fundamentalist) religious community and one has to have serious doubts whether they would have accepted Ceres as the name of the new town if it had been put forward as the name of a heathen goddess.  Add to this the fact that the level of education of the farming community was, at best, very elementary (almost certainly not including classic Greek or Roman mythology) and it becomes far more plausible that they would have accepted the explanation that the town was being named after a town in Scotland, also famous for producing high quality wheat and associated indirectly with Bain and Bell who would have been well known to them.  Bain was thoroughly acquainted with the fundamentalist religious tendencies of the farming communities in South Africa as he had lived in Graaff-Reinet and travelled extensively in the interior, so he would have cautioned Bell and the Colonial Secretary, Montague about this.  The names of the streets in the new town also leave one with the distinct impression that the community was probably not consulted or, if at all, only in the most cursory fashion, as these six gentlemen were at that time, turning Bishop Usher’s Bible based calculation of 6 000 years for the age of the earth on its head.  This knowledge would not have gone down well with the local church elders!  Also, take into consideration the tendency of the British government to name towns in South Africa after government officials, military figures or members of the aristocracy and one cannot but come to the conclusion that a very good argument must have been put forward for the name Ceres.  The mere fact that she was the Roman goddess of Fertility would not have sufficed.

A somewhat tenuous connection between Ceres in Scotland and Ceres in South Africa can possibly be drawn from the fact that there was apparently an extensive marsh between Ceres and the present day Prince Alfred’s Hamlet, bordered by the Dwars River and the Skurweberg.  This marsh was later (according to local oral history) the source of a very loud explosion that mystified the locals, but could possibly have been caused by spontaneous ignition of “marsh gas” i.e. methane.  This explosion apparently opened up a channel which subsequently drained the marsh into the Dwars River.  This specific aspect has, as yet, not been properly researched.

Is there documentary proof for my argument against the South African Ceres’s name having originated with the Roman Goddess, Ceres?  I firmly believe there is and offer the following to support my conviction.

The commonly stated (and accepted) fact is that the town was founded and named in 1854 by Jan Hendrik Munnik the father of the late Senator G.G. Munnik.  This I claim is highly debatable in view, not only of the arguments presented thus far, but also on the grounds of the following compelling reasons.  Michell’s Pass was completed in 1848 and it seems strange that it would take six years to establish a village on what was already, by all accounts, a busy main route to the North.  It did in fact not take six years, because on April 25th 1849 a report of the Central Road Board, written by the secretary Willem de Smidt, states that immediately after the opening of Michell’s Pass, about 1800 acres of unappropriated Crown Lands in the Warm Bokkeveld at the eastern entrance of the Pass, and well supplied with spring water, were laid out as the site of a village, on which is bestowed the name of “Ceres”.  The proposed village of Ceres was announced in the Government Gazette 2268 of 17 May 1849 and the sale of the first land in the village took place in Tulbagh on the July the 21st 1849.  Sixteen of these erven were registered in the Surveyor General’s & Deeds Offices in Cape Town on October the 29th 1849.  It should be noted that all of these later erven lay to the west of the Dwarsrivier.  These indisputable facts are in my view sufficient to negate all claims by Mr Munnik to having founded and named the town in 1854.

The Government Surveyor H.W. Marriot, writes on January 10th 1849 to Charles Bell the Surveyor General: “I hope to start in the morning for Ceres the plan of which I hope to send you in a few days.”  Mariott’s original drawing 1712 of the town he laid out has disappeared but a replacement 1712ff is available for examination.  The names of the streets, as mentioned earlier, may be verified on that plan.

Jan Hendrik Munnik was without doubt an important landowner in the district but how did this come about and, more importantly when.  The farm Riet Valley (later Rietvalley) was granted to George Sebastian Wolfaardt on March 8th 1832 and the major portion of this farm was sold from his estate to Johannes Cornelis Goosen on March 1st 1851.  Two portions of the farm remained and one (Erf 1183) was sold jointly to Hendrik Lodewyk de Lange Vos and Jan Hendrik Munnik and the other (Erf 1017) to Hendrik Lodewyk de Lange Vos on October 10th 1856.  The first of these two properties, Erf 1183, was divided into 10 erven of different sizes which were sold on December 16th 1856.  On February 2nd 1857 another three erven from Erf 1183 were sold to Jan Hendrik Munnik from the joint estate.  All these erven lay to the east of the Dwarsrivier.  All of this points to Mr Munnik’s participation well after the founding of the town.

In summary then, there is ample evidence to show that it is highly unlikely that Ceres was named directly in association with the Roman goddess in question.  It is far, far more likely that the connection is an indirect one and that the name was given in association with the town of that name in Scotland, because of the connection with wheat, Bain and Bell.  The information in italics in a previous paragraph on the Scottish Ceres makes a direct link to the Roman goddess even more unlikely.  The possibility of a link with the town of the same name in Scotland is further strengthened by the connection between Bain, the names of the first six streets and the association of these persons with Bain’s strong interest in Geology and Palaeontology.  The existence of the marsh and the link with the Latin Syrs is probably of less importance, but should not be entirely overlooked.

Most of this research was carried out by an associate and close friend of mine, Dr. J.A. van den Heever, a palaeontologist, and Mr. Jerry Levine a practising geologist in Johannesburg.  Both of these gentleman hail from Ceres. Mr. Levine’s father, Mr Jockey Levine, used to own the now non-existent Grand Hotel and Dr van den Heever’s mother owned the also now non-existent bakery.