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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Graffiti threatens valuable proof of historical life on South Africa’s coast

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The rocky outcrops that dot a lot of South Africa’s shoreline comprise hidden treasure: the cemented stays of the dune and seaside surfaces that existed a whole lot of hundreds of years in the past.

These cemented stays, or aeolianites, and the tracksites they comprise, present a snapshot of the Pleistocene Epoch, which began round 2.6 million years in the past and lasted till about 11,700 years in the past. Throughout this time, what’s at the moment South Africa’s Cape south coast regarded very totally different. Our analysis group has discovered greater than 300 vertebrate tracksites in these rock surfaces on a 350km stretch of this coast. The oldest surfaces are about 400,000 years outdated, and the youngest about 35,000 years outdated.

A few of these discoveries have had essential palaeo-environmental implications. For instance, the presence of giraffe within the area is just recognized by its tracks; this enables us to deduce that a minimum of a part of the panorama was savanna woodland. Breeding sea turtles and crocodiles are additionally recognized solely by the tracks that they left. Their historical presence suggests a hotter local weather tens of hundreds of years in the past.

This era, and this space, was crucially essential for people, too. At a lot of websites these rock surfaces present proof for the place and the way our ancestors walked, jogged, foraged, created photos in sand, or used stone instruments.

These surfaces are of profound scientific, cultural, heritage, environmental, and aesthetic significance. Sadly, they’re threatened – by graffiti. Their pretty delicate, friable nature signifies that with nothing greater than a hammer and a chisel, names and different photos might be etched into them. That poses an incredible threat to the underlying scientific data contained in these rocks’ surfaces.

Sadly, the quantity of this kind of graffiti seems to be rising, as my colleagues and I from the African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience at Nelson Mandela College outlined in a current journal article.

Heritage chipped away

That’s to not say it’s a completely new phenomenon. One horrifying older instance is from the West Coast Nationwide Park, about 120km exterior Cape City. Right here hominin tracks that famously turned often known as ‘Eve’s footprints’ simply missed being destroyed by graffiti. When researcher Dr Dave Roberts found the tracks within the 1990s, a graffiti artist had already been there, and had solely narrowly averted defacing the tracks.

The slab containing the tracks was airlifted to the Iziko Museum in Cape City to safe them from additional vandalism.

Nonetheless, as we famous in our paper, the result was not as lucky at a small cave west of Knysna, a city on South Africa’s Backyard Route. Right here a mass of graffiti adorns a sloping cave flooring that was as soon as a dune floor, obscuring what might be seen of underlying trackways. Tragically, there’s proof to counsel that these too could have been hominin tracks, however we can’t be sure.

Graffiti on a cave flooring west of Knysna; the underlying trackways, which can have been made by hominins, can’t be correctly assessed.
Charles Helm

The dune surfaces that our ancestors trod on turned buried. Over time, they turned cemented, and ultimately turned re-exposed on the coast. But at the moment the descendants of these ancestral pioneers carve their initials into these surfaces with out appreciating their globally important heritage worth.

Training and consciousness

Fossil tracksites appear to encourage the artistic urge within the graffiti artist, as etched graffiti seems to happen extra often on or beside such websites. So, how can this challenge be tackled?

Training and normal consciousness are essential in addressing the issue, and classes can maybe be discovered from the safety of rock artwork, which can be topic to defacement by graffiti. Signage at entry factors to areas of shoreline could assist, with catchphrases resembling “Please don’t destroy in 5 minutes what took 120,000 years to kind”.

Or maybe non-track-bearing aeolianites (cemented dunes) might be positioned at strategic entry factors, and folks might be allowed to carve their names on these surfaces in the event that they want to. As a result of many aeolianites happen in South Africa’s nationwide parks and different protected areas, authorities like SANParks and CapeNature could also be properly positioned to guide such initiatives.

These aeolianites are of important worldwide significance, and because of their heritage, scientific and aesthetic worth, a strong argument might be made for his or her safety. Pondering of aeolianite sufaces as a type of time capsule could assist: these are the exact same dune surfaces that our ancestors considered and trod on after they had been starting to assume and act like us.

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