Unearthing Grahamstown

Report by Natalie Austin & Jason Randall

Dr Rob Gess caused a stir with his discovery of Gondwana’s oldest known land animal, Gondwanascorpio emzantsiensis, in 2013. He continues to make internationally important discoveries which have opened Africa’s most important window into the 360 million year old Late Devonian world. Most of these he found in the estuarine derived rocks from Waterloo Farm on the outskirts of Grahamstown. Formerly employed by the Institute for Evolutionary Studies at Wits he has recently taken up a Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship at his original alma mater, the Rhodes Geology Department.

The scorpion fossil remains are the oldest terrestrial animal remains from Gondwana, one of two supercontinents that existed from 510 to 180 million years ago, before fragmenting into the land masses now known as Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, India and Madagascar. He talks here of his work with Dr Cyrille Prestiani of the Royal Museum of Natural History in Belgium, and an expert in Late Devonian palaeobotany.

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