Time Rewind Fossil Finding Odyssey
The Karoo, South Africa
About the Rewind Time Fossil Finding Odyssey in the Karoo, South Africa
The Karoo in South Africa is one of the most important fossil sites in the world. And it is here that Ancient Odysseys, in partnership with GENUS Paleosciences is thrilled to offer citizen scientists the exclusive opportunity to work with world-famous paleontologists to excavate and prospect at three fossil sites in the Karoo.
Over 200 million years ago, South Africa formed part of the southern outreaches of Pangaea, which was inhabited by diverse flora and fauna. In only a few places, where conditions were conducive to their fossilisation, can palaeontologists catch a glimpse of these ancient ecosystems. The Karoo is one such place!
On this itinerary, we’ll reach back and “rewind time” to help excavate the fossilized remains of 420 million year old ancient fish and early tetrapods (four-legged creatures) from the Devonian. We’ll also get hands-on at several sites to excavate fossils of an extinct group of vertebrates known as therapsids or “mammal-like reptiles”. Therapsids provide researchers with a window into the evolutionary transition from reptiles into mammals that took place during the end-Permian mass extinction.
Join us as you help scientists in their quests to answer myriad scientific questions, such as:
Were the early mammal ancestors of the Karoo warm-blooded?
What can the Karoo tell us about the reaction of terrestrial ecosystems to mass extinction events?
How can the Karoo’s shifting ecological make-up shine a light on evolutionary tempo?
What other species exist in this landscape to help us understand some of our most distant ancestors?
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
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
Meals: Lunch and Welcome Dinner
Days 2-5 | Dig Fossils from the Permian Extinction with Dr. Julien Benoit
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 excavation 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 excavation 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 excavation site to begin your day collecting fossils at 8am.
On the first day, Dr. Benoit will present an overview on the planned excavation 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 4pm, 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.
Accommodation: The Royal Hotel, Bethulie
Days 6-8 | Dr. Bruce Rubidge in Graaff-Reinet | Valley of Desolation
Today, you’ll transfer from Bethulie to Graaff-Reinet for an orientation and overview of Karoo fossil landscape with Prof Bruce Rubidge. This tour to Graaff-Reinet will include 2 days and 3 nights of walk-about arm waving adventures to sites in the Karoo Supergroup which are internationally renowned for their wealth of fossils, particularly of therapsids. This extinct group of animals are the forerunners of mammals, and the succession of therapsid fossils from the Karoo chronicle the distant evolution of mammals in remarkable detail.
These three days are sure to be one of the most anticipated experiences of the trip. Dr. 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 Dr. 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 his grandfather, Dr. Sydney Rubidge, for whom the genus of gorgonopsid Rubidgea (an ancient saber toothed therapsid) was named.
In the late afternoon, Dr. Rubidge will join us as we head to the towering Valley of Desolation located within the Camdeboo National Park. There, we will 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 Dr. Rubidge will guide us on exhilarating visits to the fossil-rich sites of Doornplaas farm, Niue Bethesda River bed, and the Lootsberg Permian Triassic Boundary site, and prospecting and fossil hunting of mammals, reptiles with Prof Rubidge on Wellwood Farm.
Our days will begin at 8h30 after breakfast and we will be back at our accommodation by 17h00.
Activities included during the course of these 3 days include:
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 will be served as dinner at one the picnic sites of the Valley of Desolation.
A private tour of Prof Rubidge’s Grandfather’s fossil collection.
Guided tour of Doornplaas farm Niue Bethesda, the Lootsberg Permian Triassic Boundary fossil site and Wellwood Form
DAY 9 & 10 | Amakhala Private Game Reserve
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
Days 11-12 | Deep Time Devonian Fossil Finding with Dr. Rob Gess
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 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 contain fossilized life from the Devonian, including tetrapods, fish, invertebrates, plants and algae. 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 include:
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.
What to Expect + What to Bring
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
SEND US PROOF OF YOUR VISAS, TRAVEL INSURANCE, VACCINATIONS, PASSPORT VALID with 2 pages MUST BE IN ORDER
Day 13 | Departure from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg
On this, your final day,
Our time together comes to an end with a transfer for your departure flight.
14 nights’ accommodation as per itinerary
All domestic itinerary flights and transfers via private bus
Fully guided by a South African tour guide
Meals (14x breakfast, 15x Lunch, 14x Dinners)
Gratuities to driver, tour guide, game ranger, tracker, waiters
Portage fees (R25 x14)
Personal, travel and health insurance
Guide services other than specified.
Meals/beverages other the specified
Visa fees and departure tax
SEND US PROOF OF YOUR VISAS, TRAVEL INSURANCE, VACCINATIONS, PASSPORT VALID with 2 pages MUST BE IN ORDER
15 days/14 nights
October xxx, 2024
Price based on double occupancy. Singles available for an extra fee.
A 4% credit card fee will be charged to the per person total should payment take place via credit card. If payment is made via SWIFT transfer then the payer is responsible for all banking transaction fees.