The fossils of Nieu-Bethesda - Some History
The Plants and Animals of the Time
The chief predators of the Permian period were the gorgonopsians, or 'terrible eyes', with dagger-like canine teeth like those of sabre-tooth cats. Rubidgea was a spectacular tiger-sized gorgonopsian. The gorgonopsians preyed on the herbivorous dicynodonts (two dogteeth), which had beaks like tortoises and defended themselves with a pair of tusks like those of a warthog. Aulacephalodon and Dicynodon were two large dicynodonts that wandered in herds around the Nieu-Bethesda area 253 million years ago.
The Pareiasaurs were another group of plant eaters that grew to the size of a VW beetle. These animals may have been relatives of the tortoises and turtles. Ferns and horsetails, which were common at the time, may still be found in damp spots today. The forests were dominated by Glossopteris trees whose fossilised leaves form a large part of South Africa's coal deposits.
The Great End-Permian Extinction
The Earth, over its extended history, has witnessed five major extinction events. The greatest of these events caused the disappearance of 90% of all life in the sea and 70% of all life on land at the end of the Permian Period. The best record of this decimating event and its effects on life on land is found not far from Nieu-Bethesda at the base of the Lootsberg Pass. Additional exhibits illustrate what life was like after the extinction, in the Triassic Period. Animals like Lystrosaurus, the last of the Dicynodonts were common.
Thrinaxodon, appeared as a newcomer an animal that is considered to be a distant ancestor of mammals. During the Triassic Period, the climate in southern Africa become increasingly arid. Toward the end of this period, the first mammals and dinosaurs evolved.