If you drive the public road through the Golden Gate National Park, enjoying the tranquil scenery, it’s difficult to believe that the area was once a vast tropical floodplain, where dinosaurs roamed in their thousands.
In fact, this beautiful park is world famous among paleontologists because of the discovery in 1977 by Professor James Kitching of the oldest fossilized dinosaur eggs ever discovered, about 200 million years in age.
Not far from the park’s Glen Reenen restcamp, at a place called Rooidraai, workers were blasting into the hillside to build the new public road. James was looking through the rubble, and found seven fossilized eggs, and when he was back in the lab studying them, he realized that two of them contained embryos! These are still the oldest embryos ever found of a terrestrial vertebrate, as most fossilized eggs are around 60 million years old.
These were eggs of the herbivorous Massospondylus dinosaur, which stood five metres high. These were some of the earliest dinosaurs on earth. Importantly, the embryos indicated that the parents cared for the young in the first few months and years, because the embryos had no teeth.
Park manager Johan Taljaard showed me a plastercast of the embryos which were discovered, and the detail of the fossils is impressive…it’s possible to see the tiny individual bones of the embryos. And amazingly, one of the embryos was in the process of hatching when a mudslide or flood covered the eggs, fossilizing them for eternity.
Johan explained to me that there are plans to develop a dinosaur interpretation centre at Golden Gate, which will go a long way to educating and informing visitors of the park’s undoubted fame in paleontological circles.
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