Title: Africa’s Top Geological Sites
Editors: C R Anhaeusser, M J Viljoen, C R Viljoen
Cartographer: Lynda Whitfield
Publisher: Struik Nature
Recommended Price: R390.00
Geology is one of those subjects one generally doesn’t learn about unless one chooses a subject called “Geography” when one is at school. I am not even sure that young people can choose a subject called “Geography” anymore. Someone was telling me it is called “Social Studies” now and it covers a broader range of history and economics and a narrower range of geography. I have no knowledge of the changed curriculum, but think that this generation of learners is losing out if geology is not being covered. Of course, it is covered again at universities, with people trained as geologists being highly sought after by mines and other institutions where there is a significant environmental impact.
Much criticism of the school system of teaching nearly all subjects was and, to a degree, still is because subjects are taught in an academic vacuum away from the practical side. Certainly most geology didn’t really make sense to me at school because of its lack of real life application and reference. However, I found it fascinating to hear the teacher hint that the world was very, very old (much older than the six thousand years Christian Education at the time didn’t actually teach, but refrained from correcting). Perhaps she even directly told us some of the estimates (I am almost certain she told us about Pangaea and Gondwona) but I couldn’t take them in. Bear in mind that I had calculated that I would be 42 at the turn of the century. I couldn’t take that in, so speaking in terms of millions of years was likely to have gone over my head. It still does in the main. I carry no detailed timelines in my head of when what was formed. I have to be content with a vague picture situated somewhere in my very limited brain as “long, long ago when the world was young”.
This might seem like rambling to you, but it is important to understand that when I review a book on geology, I do so out of interest and wonder, and often a deep desire to see the landscape for myself, but certainly not with vast knowledge or understanding. I have been privileged to see some of these geological wonders for myself, sometimes after having done reading in other books on the geological splendour of Southern Africa.
Africa’s Top Geological Sites looks at the whole of Africa. Sometimes, despite its name, it doesn’t look at a site, but at a theme. Starting from back to front, the last chapter of the book, Chapter 44, African Treasures, Gemstones and minerals of Africa, by Bruce Caincross, conjures up verbal images of King Solomon’s Mines, alongside images of Kimberley’s Big Hole (I lived in Kimberley for several years so I do know a teeny tiny bit about diamonds). I was somewhat surprised to discover that my birthstone, a garnet, comes in the form of tsavorite garnets in the Merelani Hills in Tanzania, and these are green, not the wine red I associate with January’s gems. There is no doubt that Africa is rich in mineral resources and that many of these stones and crystals are particularly beautiful, especially when polished or cut and polished.
Another themed chapter is on the Hominum sites of Africa. I found the “family tree” with its hominoid skulls quite fascinating. It goes back about seven million years. The Cradle of Humankind obviously is discussed in this chapter.
I was thrilled to discover that I had visited the first site discussed in the book – the Victoria Falls. I haven’t been to Mpungubwe on the border of Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa (Ok, close, but on the South African side). It is on my bucket list. I’ve just been waiting until I am fit enough to get to the top. No point in visiting then stopping before the top. Zimbabwe stays the focus of attention wtih the Chiniamhora Batholith, the Matobo Hills (which I have visited) the Chimaninimani Mountains (also visited).
The book then moves to Mozambique’s Gorongosa, and then comes down to South Africa. The important ancient Barbeton Makhonjwa Mountainland, one of the oldest mountains in the world, if not the oldest (and other places definitely claim it as the oldest) gets a mention together with the Pilansberg, Drakensberg, Karoo, Bushveld, Cape Fold Mountains, Table Mountain, and many more. While I am paging through the book I am struck by the fact that it is not a quick browse book. One needs to study the many photos and diagrams in context of the text. Each chapter has its own contributing author or authors. Some write in a more academic manner than others.
Much of the north of Zimbabwe stuff is not known to me. I have, of course, flown over Mount Kilimanjaro, and once managed to catch a glimpse it on a very rare day when it wasn’t covered by cloud. The pilot was kind enough to point it out to the passengers. The islands of both the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans are covered. The Indian Ocean islands are, of course, popular destinations for holiday makers from South Africa, but it took me a second or two to imagine where the Atlantic Ocean islands are located. I was parochially thinking of Southern waters, but when I came up blank, I remembered that this is an all Africa book and worked my way up the coast to find what I was looking for.
All round this is one of those books that is more than a coffee-table book. It needs one to apply one’s mind to it for it discusses the geological development of the sit, its current status as a geological feature, the ecological impact as well as its archeological and cultural impact where applicable. However, it is portioned into nice size chunks so that one can have a read and then put it down and come back to it another time. My challenge is to find the right spot to put the book. Books left on my desk tend to get put into piles. Books left on my bedside table get shelved. I really do need a coffee table for these books that I want to come back to. Father Christmas take note.
My geography is a bit rusty where I even knew the terms in the first place and I needed to use the glossary for some terms. I was relieved to find it there where one would expect it to be. It is very comprehensive.