top of page
richtersveld-758235_1920.jpeg

Time Rewind Fossil Finding Odyssey 
The Karoo, South Africa

Blackened Paper

Two paleontological expeditions in one exclusive itinerary in the wondrous Paleo Playground of the Great Karoo

2024 Dates

October 1-13, 2024

13 days and 12 nights

(Inquire about additional dates and bespoke itineraries)xx

$7,780

from

10 participants

Ages: 18+

Can't make it this year? Join the waitlist for next year's dig!

 

Participation is subject to availability and is at the full discretion of the dig location. Prices and dates dates subject to change. Terms & Conditions apply.

<< Go back to Paleontology digs mainpage

About the Rewind Time Fossil Finding Odyssey in the Karoo, South Africa

With this itinerary, we’ll reach back and “rewind time” to work with world-famous paleontologists in the Karoo of South Africa to explore and excavate the fossilized remains of 420 million year old ancient fish and early four-legged tetrapods from the Devonian. We’ll also get hands-on with the fossils for which the Karoo is best known: mammal-like reptiles called therapsids, which are reptiles that show features of mammals and represent a transitional stage between reptiles and mammals.

 

The Karoo in South Africa is one of the most important fossil locales in the world. Over 200 million years ago, South Africa formed part of the southern outreaches of Pangaea, and the Karoo contains a largely unbroken record of prehistoric life, extending from the Permian to the Jurassic period. The fossils in the Karoo rocks include the ancestors of lizards and snakes, tortoises, and crocodiles and dinosaurs.

“The mammal-like reptiles (therapsids) of South Africa may safely be regarded at the most important fossil animal ever discovered, and their importance lies in the fact that there is little or no doubt that among them we have the ancestors of mammals and the remote ancestors of man.”

Dr. Robert Broom

Ancient Odysseys is offering this exclusive itinerary in partnership with GENUS Paleosciences and

Safari Odyssey.

On this expedition, a portion of your fees fund bursaries for black female South African paleontologists. However, all the digs featured on Ancient Odysseys are non-profits and rely upon visitors and donations to continue their important scientific work. Please consider donating if you would like to support this organization's mission. All donations are tax deductible.

The Researchers You Will Be Working With On This Tour

Day 1 | Arrival in Johannesburg | Visit to The Evolutionary Studies Institute, WITS University

Jonah.jpg

Today marks your arrival in Johannesburg, South Africa and comes with a grand opening to the rest of your tour. 

You will first visit  the iconic Evolutionary Studies Institute at WITS University where you will meet Jonah Choiniere, Professor of Comparative Palaeobiology. Prof. Choiniere  is presently working in the South African Karoo basin, where his fieldwork is based on figuring out the age and distribution of the dinosaurs that used to live there.

Prof. Choiniere will be guiding a private hour tour of the Evolutionary Studies Institute, which houses some of the stunning fossils collected in South Africa's Main Karoo Basin, including some of the oldest ancestors of today's mammals, crocodiles and birds. 

Beginning deep in the archives, participants will see a stunning specimen of Eunotosaurus and Australochelys, showing the early evolution of turtles.  We will proceed to a selection of therapsids, or "mammal-like" reptiles, which showcase the transition from giant sprawling reptilian predators and herbivores to small, active burrowing species that closely resemble living rodents and carnivores.  Included in the highlights are skulls of the fearsome gorgons, who were the first "saber-tooths" to ever evolve and a fossil of a mummified hand of a superficially pig-like dicynodont.  From mammals, we'll head into the archosaurs, the ancestors of today's birds and crocodiles.  Here we'll see the giant skull of Erythrosuchus, which many people mistake at first glance for T. rex, but which lived nearly 175 million years earlier.  We'll also see the small and surprisingly agile early crocodilians, like Protosuchus.

Among dinosaurs, the tour will showcase the fossilized eggs and embryos of Massospondylus, from the world's oldest dinosaur nests. We'll also see the giant bones of Ledumahadi, the first of the giant sauropod dinosaurs whose descendants include famous species like Brontosaurus.

 

Next, we will join Dr. Bernhad Zipfel, University Curator of Fossils and Rock Collections - Evolutionary Studies Institute for a tour of the center’s fossil hominin collection. You’ll be introduced to the history of the collections and have the privilege of seeing  some of the world’s most important hominin fossils. These  include the original Taung Skull-holotype of Australopithecus africanus (arguably the world’s most valuable fossil), selected specimens  from Sterkfontein eg. Little Foot, Malapa (Australopithisus sediba) and Rising Star (Homo naledi).

Lunch will be enjoyed at the WITS Club's Olives & Plates - a subtle introduction, perhaps, to the variety of gourmet experiences which you are set to enjoy whilst in South Africa.

As we drive through the multi-faceted city of Johannesburg (“Joburg” in local language), you may notice just how life, through the integration of cultures, has become the norm over time, perhaps more so here than in any other part of South Africa - the greater Johannesburg hosts something of everything – forested city, urban, industrial & corporate trade, an infusion of cultural entertainment, heritage sites, modern architecture, western, traditional and cosmopolitan lifestyles, poor and polar opposite wealthy.

Once through the city we will travel to your hotel, The Da Vinci Hotel, Sandton, located on the doorstep of the world-famous Nelson Mandela Square and Sandton City.

 

Check in and freshen up before being seated to a uniquely designed welcome dinner to endsyour first evening in South Africa.  An infusion of local flavours awaits you at Pigalle, Sandton.

Accommodation: The Da Vinci Hotel, Sandton or similar

Meals: Lunch and Welcome Dinner

Days 2-5 | Permian Extinction Fossil Exploration with Dr. Julien Benoit

9bdd9cdb-0e25-e11f-143e-f29ea716c823.jpeg

Today begins your search for fossils from the Permian-Triassic extinction event. 

You'll board an early flight from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein as we head to the Great Karoo (sometimes referred to "a gigantic playground packed with millions of fossils" This site is incredibly important to paleontologists as it is the only record of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction’s effect on terrestrial animals. 

Our base for a few days is Bethulie, home to the Oviston Nature Reserve, where the effects of this mass extinction are easily accessible and visible.

You'll be working with Dr. Julien Benoit in Oviston, on the shore of the Gariep Dam. This location is of great interest to paleontologists as it’s a clearly visible record of the Permian-Triassic “Great dying” event. The end-Permian mass extinction was responsible for the elimination of 90% of species living in the sea and 70% of species living on land. 

Your work will entail exploration and prospecting for fossils on hikes and locations throughout this area. Training and tools, including geopicks, brushes and GPS will be provided. 

You will be contributing to research that will help scientists decipher the biggest mass extinction event of all, and thus anticipate the effect of the ongoing biological crisis.

 

During your 3-day exploration with Dr. Benoit, your days will consist of:

  • Mornings will start with breakfast at your hotel after which you will be accompanied by Dr Benoit to your site to begin your day collecting fossils at 8am.

  • On the first day, Dr. Benoit will present an overview on the planned activities during your time at Oviston. You will also learn proper fossil excavation and collection techniques, with all tools provided. 

  • You'll work for a few hours between meals as you look for fossils and excavate your finds.

  • Lunch is picnic style and enjoyed as part of a well-deserved break on site.  

  • At 3pm, we’ll pack up to head back to the hotel. Your late afternoons are free to visit local attractions and historical sites in Bethulie or simply enjoy a relaxing few hours as you slowly make your way through the most unbelievable library and music room for which The Royal Hotel is world-famous and where you are staying. 

  • One afternoon, we'll explore a small museum together in Bethulie

Accommodation: The Royal Hotel, Bethulie or similar

All Meals, except for 1 dinner on your own

Days 6-8 | Prof. Bruce Rubidge in Graaff-Reinet | Valley of Desolation

Gorgonopsian skull.png

Today, you’ll transfer from Bethulie to Graaff-Reinet for an orientation and overview of Karoo fossil landscape, including therapsids, with Prof .Bruce Rubidge. This extinct group of animals are the forerunners of mammals.

 

These days are sure to be one of the most anticipated experiences of the trip. Prof. Rubidge is an authority on tetrapod evolutionary change, mammal-like reptiles of the Karoo Basin and early therapsids. His studies and research have helped shape our understanding of the Pangean continental realm during the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic eras.

Fossil-discovery runs in the Rubidge family and Prof. Rubidge will be taking us on a visit to his family’s personal collection at the Karoo Origins Fossil Display. This is the world’s largest private fossil collection started in the early 20th century by Dr. Sidney Rubidge (grandfather of Bruce), for whom the genus of gorgonopsid Rubidgea (an ancient saber toothed therapsid) was named. The Collection houses an exceptionally large number of holotypes of global importance, including an incredible number of Permian-aged land-living reptiles. It is estimated that over 2,000 scientific papers have been written on the fossils of this collection.

On our first day here, Prof. Rubidge will join us as we head to the towering Valley of Desolation located within the Camdeboo National Park. There, we will take in the geologic spectacle of the Valley’s tall dolerite columns which have eroded and weathered, causing the columnar structures characteristic of this area. We’ll enjoy a late afternoon sundowner and picnic dinner at a time when the valley is at its most beautiful and the perfect time to see the many species of animals who call the park home. 

On our remaining days, Prof. Rubidge will guide us on exhilarating visits to the fossil-rich sites of:

  • Doornplaats farm, a remarkable site with prolific vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, including fossilised fish scales, the fossilised burrows attributed to the dicynodont Cistecephalus.

  • The Gats River fossil site at Nieu-Bethesda, where rocks preserve the fossilsed bones of ancient reptiles and therapsids which lived and died on the river floodplains. This area is where James Kitching began to formulate his findings that on palaeontological grounds, South Africa and Antarctica were once linked.

  • Lootsberg Pass, a fossil-rich site which is one of the best places on Earth to study the effect of the Permian Triassic extinction on land. Here, we will see examples of some of the earliest Triassic fauna of the Karoo Basin, which is characterised by few dicynodont species, and a new fauna dominated by the amphibian Lystrosaurus, and early archosaurs (the most distant ancestors of dinosaurs) as well as cynodont therapsids, the ancestors of mammals.

Activities included during the course of these 3 days include:

  • An orientation and overview of Karoo fossil landscape with Prof. Bruce Rubidge. 

  • A visit to the Valley of Desolation within the Camdeboo National Park with picnic and sundowners.

  • A private tour of the Rubidge fossil collection.

  • A visit to the Kitching Fossil Exploration Center

  • Guided tour of Doornplaats farm, the Gats River fossil site at Nieu-Bethesda, the Lootsberg Permian and Triassic Boundary fossil site.

 

Accommodation: De Wingerd B&B, Graaff-Reinet or similar

All Meals, except for 1 dinner on your own

DAY 9 & 10 | Amakhala Private Game Reserve

amakhala.jpeg

Finally, we are on our way into the African bush of the Addo, Eastern Cape, with no better way to highlight your travels than in true safari styled simplicity.

Our day includes a morning game drive within the Big 5 landscape of the Amakhala Private Game Reserve.  We will enjoy the company of the owner of Amakhala as we enjoy a presentation and private tour of this site.  What makes it particularly sentimental is the fact that the owner grew up on the Amakhala farm so his input comes with great terms of endearment.

 

We’ll enjoy lunch at the Bukela Game Lodge located in the Amakhala Game Reserve, then head for a late afternoon safari drive to the "deep time" dinosaur fossil site on the Reserve. It was here that the very first dinosaur remains were found in South Africa in 1845.

 

This  followed by a traditional dinner is served as an informal bush braai (barbeque) in the “boma” with a selection of dishes to suit all palates. Typically, a traditional braai includes a selection of salads and / or hot vegetables and barbecued meats.

After enjoying dinner, guests  can enjoy an evening of starlit skies and animals of nocturnal behaviour before retiring to the comfort and luxury of their suite. From there, you will awaken to the chorus of an African dawn . . . ready for another day of adventure!

 

Accommodations: The Amakhala Private Game Reserve

All Meals

Days 11-12 | Deep Time Devonian Fossil Finding with Dr. Rob Gess

190236100_143468721153084_93736363524922

Today you will meet Dr. Rob Gess, South Africa's leading researcher on Devonian (420 – 359 million year old) ecosystems and Early Vertebrates (ancient fish and early four legged creatures.) For the next two days, Dr. Gess will be our guide and paleontological lead. 

 

Dr. Gess will join you for a guided tour of the Waterloo Farm exhibits, as well as a tour of the lab and the most important specimens in the collections, including the oldest known land-living animal from Gondwana, the oldest fossil lamprey in the world and Africa's oldest coelacanth.

 

In the afternoon and the entire next day, we will head to Waterloo Farm in Bathurst for some hands-on fossil-finding of our own!

 

It is here we will have access to a large assemblage of shale blocks from the Waterloo Farm lagerstatte. These rocks which are located in the Antarctic Circle have yielded fossilized life from the Late Devonian, including fish, invertebrates, plants and algae. But what is most expected is the presence of early tetrapods, which were previously believed to have lived only in the tropics.

 

Your work here will directly contribute to our understanding of the most important site of its age in the southern hemisphere.

 

Activities included during the course of these 2 days:

  • We’ll start by breaking up into smaller, supervised groups. With the provided tools, each person will very slowly and carefully chisel through the shale blocks, layer by layer. Each layer of rock is a mystery  that you will help to uncover.

  • When you come across a fossil–and you WILL come across fossils–your group supervisor will identify and evaluate what you find. There’s a very real chance of striking palaeo gold during these two days. If you find something that’s highly significant, we’ll set it aside to prepare properly in the lab.

 

Accommodation at Kingston Farm, Bathurst or Kowrie River Chalets, Port Alfred or similar

All Meals

What to Expect + What to Bring for the Fossil Digs

AEnB2Uri1i0DmhjVQdzSKTCMCOI_hJdFMUCJS42j

You will be working under the supervision of the paleontologists, but the tasks associated with working on an excavation can involve certain risks. Excavation work may involve difficult conditions, uneven terrain, unanticipated natural hazards, use of digging equipment, and  manual labor.  A general level of fitness is necessary for excavations, such as long walks, sometimes over uneven ground, walking up and down steps and inclines, kneeling, filling and carrying buckets of soil and stones. All outdoor activities are subject to the weather. 

  • Hiking or work boots

  • Work/gardening gloves 

  • Sun hat

  • Sunscreen

  • Camera

  • Notebook

Day 13 | Departure from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg

Above the Clouds

Today we wish you farewell as you fly out of Port Elizabeth back to Johannesburg or wherever your travels take you.  

Meal: Breakfast

tri cost
road-4963011_1920.jpeg

Includes:

  • 12 nights’ accommodation as per itinerary 

  • All domestic flights included in the itinerary (Johannesburg - Bloemfontein  l  Port Elizabeth - Johannesburg)

  • All transfers via private bus with leader and tour guide

  • Presentations, private tours and excavation days with the researchers & site permit holders.

  • Breakfast, lunch, dinner as indicated.

  • Activities as indicated in the itinerary.

  • Water and rehydrates on expedition days

  • Mandatory gratuities and service fees to driver, tour guide, game ranger, tracker and waiters.

 

Excludes:​

  • Meals and beverages not mentioned

  • Personal, travel and medical insurance (mandatory proof needed)

  • International flights. However,  we are happy to assist you with international flight arrangements if needed.

  • Guide services other than specified

  • Visa fees and departure tax 

  • Alcoholic beverages

  • All other travel necessities / requirements such as vaccinations (eg. Yellow fever & Covid-19), valid passports and visas, for travel from point of original departure through to the final destination, are strictly the responsibility of the individual traveller.  No refunds will be granted if the individual traveller fails in securing the necessary requirements.

Fees and Cancellations: 

  • A 3.5% credit card fee will be charged per person total for credit cards. If payment is made via SWIFT transfer, the payer is responsible for all banking transaction fees. Any shortfall will be reinvoiced until the total selling price has been received.

  • For cancellations, US $2,500 will be retained once a booking is confirmed and deposit is received  Any banking fees for refunds will be for the account of the individual traveller.

  • No refunds will be granted if the individual traveller failed in securing the necessary requirements timeously.A 100% cancellation fee is applicable 3 months or less prior to start date of travel. 

13 days/12 nights

October 1-13, 2024

From:

US $7,780

A portion of your fees fund bursaries for black female South African paleontologists!

 

Pricing is based on a 10-guest minimum, double-occupancy. Single traveler price is from $8,330. Travel logistics managed by Safari Odyssey. 

  • Rates remain subject to change until such time that full and final payment has been received and confirmed by Safari Odyssey. Rates can change based on availability, exchange rates and changes implemented by service providers.

  • A deposit of $6,800 for shared room or $7,500 for single is due upon booking.

  • Final balance is due July 1, 2024. 

This itinerary can be customized to your dates and interests.

 

Can't make it this year? 

Join the waitlist for next year's dig!

bottom of page