A few Aloe dichotoma were seen scattered on hills across the road.
We saw more hills reminiscent of Joshua Tree National Monument. Could a variant of the Joshua tree principle apply to landscape recognition? Do similar landscapes evoke uncannily similar vegetation? The South Atlantic was beginning, as we proceeded, to fill the low spots in the western horizon like a rising tide. We passed a battered and stripped small blue station wagon to the right. Sand dunes were beginning to drape the hills to the left. Termite mounds and grass tufts were scattered on the treeless plain.
Lüderitz was 30 kilometers away. Last time Frieder was in Lüderitz, the harbor held part of the Portuguese fishing fleet, captured for fishing within the 20-km exclusive fishing zone of the new Namibia. The boats were still for sale.
We passed the Rotkop Station, marked by a sign but no structures. A transformer station appeared to the left. The dunes rise high to the right-cuspidate dune forms open to the southwest. A utility truck was off to the right. A sign cautions drivers about wind and sand:
Gray sand was indeed streaming across the highway to the right. Another sign:
The founder of the coastal town, Adolf Lüderitz, was a merchant adventurer born in Bremen to an eventful life. He spent a few years in the United States and returned to Germany intent on colonial expansion. He applied in 1882 to the German government for protection of any acquisitions he might make on the Namibian coast. The government in Berlin quietly approved his plans, and in 1883 Lüderitz set sail in the Tilly to Angra Pequena.38 After purchasing land from the Namas and the Hottentots of Walvis Bay, he established "Lüderitzland." In the opinion of Reichskanzler Bismarck, it was time for Germany to stake out a "place in the sun" and establish the first German overseas colony. In 1885 Lüderitz founded the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft für Südwestafrika (German South West Africa Colonial Company).
The company was founded with funds raised from German investors as the company went public. Lüderitz himself purchased all the land and mining rights of Lüderitzland. He had incurred huge debts by loading up the Tilly to found the colony. All of his profits were reinvested; Lüderitz himself never became rich. He was drowned in 1885 in a sailing accident between Angra Pequena and the Orange River mouth.
The diamond fields were discovered in 1908, the same year that the first diverse Ediacaran fossils were found in German South West Africa by P. Range and H. Schneiderhöhn. The first diamond deposit was found by Zacharia Lewala, a railway worker, while shoveling drift sand off of the line south of Lüderitz. A diamond rush by white settlers was checked, however, by State Secretary for the Colonies Herr Dernburg, who was in the country at the time of the discoveries. Dernburg placed the diamond deposits in the hands of a company appointed by the German government. The Sperrgebiet, a 100-km-wide coastal strip, was the exclusive domain of the German South West Africa Colonial Company, with the diamonds being marketed by the Diamantenregie des Südwestafrikanischen Schutzgebiets of Berlin. Diamond production went from 38,000 carats in 1908 to a million and a half carats in 1913. Production from 1908 to 1913 was 5 million carats, which contributed 60 million marks to the German treasury.
There were bitter feelings toward Dernburg from the colonists, who were deprived of the chance to find diamonds on their own. Nevertheless, the finds made the German colony solvent for the first time and allowed Germany to spend funds for welcome improvement of the colony's infrastructure. The rallying cry among the more sensible farmer colonists was, "We must turn our diamonds into water."
We passed the Grasplatz Station, a tan building with a red roof on a bedrock and stone pedestal. Doors and windows were gone. The place looked deserted and was surrounded by sand and rock. Grasplatz means "lawn." It reminded me somewhat of the Norse naming of Greenland.
Sand streams were making it all the way across the road, and the sea stretched all the way across the western horizon. The Joshua tree granite landscape was drowning in sand. Their wooden ties not visible, the railroad tracks emerged from the sand like paired, parallel iron serpents. Spindly skeletal trees rose from the sand sea. Barchan dunes appeared to the left, and we saw a willowlike plant with leaves of leather. Examining a tan seed pod, I found two bugs, each marked with a black and red X.
The Barchan dunes, opening to the west, tried to march across the road as we continued on. Local vegetation looked like tumbleweeds that hadn't learned yet how to roll.
Lüderitz 10 km. A small airport appeared to the right. We passed the remains of Kolmanskop. A major casino formerly run by Erni's grandmother, it was a ghost town. Kolmanskop's attractive colonial buildings were missing windows and roofs.
Cresting a ridge, we caught sight of Lüderitz. The harbor looked like a lake because its connection to the open Atlantic could not be seen. Ancient Phoenicians, taking orders from Pharaoh Necho in 600 b.c., are said to have circumnavigated Africa in 3 years.39 If so, they were probably the first Europeans to see (or at least sail past) what is now Lüderitz Bay. The great historian Herodotus dutifully reported, but doubted, the Phoenician report to Necho that halfway through their voyage, the noonday shadows pointed south.
Lüderitz looks like a frontier mining town with a fresh coat of paint. A white water tank is visible to the south. Mokolian biotite-rich banded gneisses, again of the Namaqua Metamorphic complex, form the out-croppings of the rugged local landscape. A yellow garbage can proclaims "Diamond Area Keep Out." Edith Seilacher calls this place a moonscape with electricity (color plate 9). The Phoenicians would have sailed past in all possible haste. The Lüderitz golf club appeared on the right. Edith, her humor in rare form, noted that they must have wicked sand traps.
The Namibian flag flies over palms and trees and corrugated tin roofs. The "harbor" is actually a lagoon. We saw signs for Bismarckstrasse, Saddle Hill Namibia Fishing Company, and Dial a Movie. We park on Diazstrasse. Blacks and whites are talking on the street.
We entered a small grocery store (Bäckerei Celbrodt). A banner read "100 Jahre Lüderitzbucht 1883-1993" [100 years Lüderitz Bay 1883-1993]. A colonial style trim of carved wooden leaves ornamented the edges of the walls. A picture of the founder was on the wall, with a turned-up mustache. The proprietor was black, spoke German, and sported sideburns and a baker's cap. I bought a package of SAD (South Africa Dried Fruit Co-op, Ltd.) Safari Pitted Dates, Produce of Iraq.
The Seilachers call the colonial building style in town Wilhelminian. This neoromantic style was elevated to the Empire Style through the direct influence of Emperor Wilhelm II. It is best expressed in the cre ations of architect Franz Schwechten (1841-1924). It looked to me like an attractive merger of Dutch and Tudor style.
We slipped into the First National Bank to change $1000 U.S. to rand for Bruce Runnegar. We received R3280.86 for the $1000, with commission of R33.14. Interest rates (Rentekoerse) posted on the wall were well over 12 percent, evidence of a capital-hungry, high-risk economy. Bank money exchange occurred in a office/booth with darkened glass. The office had bare tubular fluorescent lighting and a Westpoint air conditioner wall-mount. Also wall-mounted, on a shieldlike wood plaque, was a taxidermic preparation of a spiny lobster. It looked much like the species native to California waters. Pen and ink sketches of hoofed animals hung below a green sign showing a man running, presumably an exit sign, but it seemed to point to the office of the Manager (Bestuurder).
Fliers at the bank: "Here's what you should know about South Africa's new R50 banknote," "South African Reserve Bank—Money you can be proud of." "New banknote [R50, lion; R20, stately elephant] incorporates many highly advanced security features, making it extremely difficult to forge." Back of the new R20 bill depicted mining with a diamond intaglio. The R50 bill showed carbon atoms bonded into the covalent diamond structure. Leaving the bank, we passed Diamontbergstrasse.
We hiked up to the famous Luderitz Gothic Church. It sits on honeycomb-weathered granites and wildly folded gneisses and mafic dikes of the Namaqua Metamorphic complex. The migmatite-gneiss swirls and the quartz-feldspar pegmatites are discretely stabilized by concrete. A jet black skink crept out of a joint between the concrete and the rock. Pink and white flowers were in bloom at the top of the outcrop. The rock surface glistened like a surf-washed gem.
From here we could see 20 fishing boats rocking in the harbor, all with bows pointed inland. Two larger trawlers were visible closer to the mouth of the Bay. A boom on the dock serviced the ships. Offshore ran the cold water Benguela Current; it reaches only 15°C during the hottest part of the austral summer. The seawater was blue-green with a brown tint, identical in color to the cool water of the Kuroshio/California Current offshore coastal California. It even had kelp.
The Baja California-like landscape had very sparse vegetation. Broken bottles littered the base of the honeycombed granite outcrop. The gables of the Wilhelminian-style homes and public buildings were faceted like diamonds. The buildings were painted in the tans and "southwestern" pastels that are so fashionable in southern California. One modern build ing seemed to combine Spanish and German colonial styles. Red roofs came in stucco, shingle, and corrugated sheet metal.
We continued on foot through Lüderitz. Krakenhaft Lampe. Boekwinkel on Nachtigal (=nightingale) Strasse. Livingstone Reiches Apotheke. Caltex oil tanks. New Institute for Fisheries for Department of Works. Monkey puzzle (southern hemisphere genus Araucaria) trees. Kapps Hotel. Black citizens were mostly of the Ovambo ethnic background.40
Lüderitz was an important city in the 1920s but it has been largely eclipsed by Walvis Bay. Although its influence is still apparent, the German language is dying out. Three flags are flying here: German, Union Jack, and Namibian. Lüderitz is quite isolated, as access is only by sea, small airport, or the narrow and sand-dune-encroached highway from Aus.
En route back to Aus, a pediment within mountain ranges to the north looked like an inland sea. Another aquatic mirage shimmered on the highway in the distance. Peter Seilacher drove at autobahn speeds— nearly 140 kph. The mid-afternoon light gave the usually straw-colored grasses a green sheen.
A landmark marker appeared in the distance, a white rectangle surmounted by a black square. Surely of use to travelers in the trackless reaches of the Sperrgebiet.
We pulled over to watch a gemsbok to the right. It galloped off, displaying a black-and-white rump and a streamerlike black tail. Seven more gemsbok appeared, resembling caribou from a distance. Their long, straight horns glistened, in the words of Henno Martin, like burnished swords.
At 20 km to Aus, trees were clustered on the low ridges like California coast live oak with spreading, fractal dendritic limbs. However, these were acacias with pastel blue blossoms. Large bush turkeys flapped across the road. Ten kilometers from Aus, on the right in the Joshua Tree Monument—like granite hills, small trees or large green bushes grew preferentially along the contact between the granite bedrock and its rub-bly talus. Do the roots slope away from the firm bedrock toward a water source ponded at the base of the talus?
Passing into the Aus suburbs (Aussen Bitilk), we drove by the Aus shopping center, architecture in faux gothic. We were now in the flat-topped Nama Group mesas and en route to the Aar and Plateau Farms. A sign said "Gravel on Road," and indeed the road was entirely gravel. We were 100 kilometers from Goageb.
Areas around Luderitz and Bogenfels were worked by several German diamond mining companies until 1920, when Sir Ernest Oppenheimer bought control and amalgamated these interests into a new company, Consolidated Diamond Mine (CDM) of South Africa. CDM, the largest single contributor to Namibian national income, is a subsidiary of De Beers Consolidated Mines, leader of the world diamond industry.
German mining interests sold out to CDM for 40 million reichsmarks. The money later became worthless because of the hyperinflation of the Weimar era. At the time of the sale, the diamond resources were thought to be running out. In 1925 diamonds were found south of the Orange River, near Port Nolloth.
A Dr. Hans Merensky established a link between the diamonds and fossil oyster beds in the nearshore area.41 The oyster beds acted as a baffle trap for the diamonds being carried by currents north along the Namibian coast. The diamonds worked their way into the crevices between the oysters, turning the beds into a paleontological equivalent of Jason's Golden Fleece. In 1928 CDM discovered rich deposits in marine terraces just north of the Orange River, over 100 km south of the original German workings.
The diamonds are believed to have originated in volcanic pipes (kim-berlites42) far in the interior. A swarm of kimberlites cuts through Proterozoic rocks of the Gariep Complex (mostly dolomites, shales, and their metamorphic equivalents), the sedimentary rocks underlying the Nama Group. In R. M. Miller's geological map of Namibia,43 these kimberlites are 10 to 20 km due east of the coast, opposite Black Rock Island. The diamonds were carried to the sea by ancient rivers, then thrown back on the beaches by the Atlantic waves.
At 90 km to Goageb we saw ancient Precambrian igneous and meta-morphic rocks of the Namaqua Metamorphic Complex frosted with the nearly flat-lying quartzites of the Daris Formation, in turn overlain by the carbonates of the Nama Group. Likely prospects for Ediacaran fossils could be seen at quite a distance because the fossils occur right at the break in slope caused by the bedrock transition from the quartz-rich rocks to the limestones.
Windmills were as common as trees. Inverted concrete Us were grouped in clusters, awaiting the macadam transformation of the road gravel. The Ovambo workers of the construction crew wore gray jumpsuits with ski caps. Komatsu graders were leveling the road surface, and red dust was everywhere. The Komatsu worked with a sand mover Caterpillar and a D9 Cat. Speed limit on the gravel was 60 kph.
We crossed a double X railroad crossing, which brought us to a sign announcing the Plateau Farm:
Power lines crossed the road. The pad stretched ahead in dusty red. The depth of the dust made for tricky driving. I had skidded off the road slightly here earlier, and promptly turned the van over to Hans, a more skillful driver. The washboard went all the way across the road in places. Abundant grass seeds on the edge of the road looked like a dusting of snow. A blue water truck was spraying the construction area to keep the dust down. A horse stepped leisurely out of our way and off the road.
The road became increasingly rocky as we gained altitude. The dominant plant here is the spiky Euphorbia, with its poisonous milky sap. The road crested a rocky rise. A fence stretching across the plain caused a grazing discontinuity in the grassland. Soon we were back to the red silt road surface. Green and ochre vegetation was visible on quartzite slopes. Gray bushes, straw grass, and reddish termite mounds covered the grassy plain; bitter melons the size of softballs were seen in the road. One mound had its top smashed in; perhaps the site of a baboon snack? In the approach to Plateau Farm, a windmill turned slowly on an Acacial Opuntia oasis. Peter, driving now, braked for birds and fishtailed the van in the silt. Frieder joked that 20 years from now, Nama children would say they were born x number of years after Mark McMenamin ran off the road.
Plateau Farm supported statuesque prickly pear (Opuntia) and trotting heifers. We arrived at the stone farmhouse, corrugate sheet metal roof gleaming, 41 minutes late for our rendezvous. Hellmut Erni's wife, very young, greeted us. Dolf, Bruce, Jim, and others were even later than we were. The farmhouse grounds formed an arboretum of pines, acacia, and spiny and smooth organ-pipe cacti. Hellmut's mother-in-law, with white hair and a brown sweater with a tan stripe, joined us on the porch. I played fetch (using a pine cone) with an energetic black-and-white sheepdog named Fips until a much larger but limping Rottweiler named Max tired of our antics. The Rottweiler chewed up the pine cone. Later Frieder played catch with both dogs, and the Rottweiler got quite winded. Fips was a sheepdog but was in fact more of a house dog.
Soon the others arrived and we paid our respects to the famous Erni collection of Nama fossils, kept in a shed by the Karakul sheep. The Karakul lambs were frisky and had climbed up on top of the corrugated metal roofs of the stone stables in order to nibble acacia leaves. This was our second visit, and the qualities of the fossils continued to amaze us. The end of one Pteridinium swelled downward like the rounded body of a Precambrian mandolin (color plate 10); a straight, thinner Pteridinium nearby could have passed for the imaginary instrument's fretted neck (color plate 11). Bulbous specimens of Ernietta defied our attempts to understand Erniettas mode of growth. The specimens appeared to be kinked, wrinkled, and swollen like a water balloon filled with sand.
At dinner that night, conversation turned to the adventures of the day:
MoMenamin: We've reached that exalted state known as the cutting edge of science. We now know more about the Ediacaran biota than anyone else.
Seilaoher: Yes, that's probably right.
MoMenamin: It lasts about a week.
Dolf's key insight regarding the infaunal (in-the-sediment) nature of these fossils occurred while studying Dr. Pflug's collection in Lich, Germany. When he saw a cast of a double Rangea specimen he knew it couldn't have been at the surface. He had earlier reconstructed Pteridinium as partly emergent from the sediment surface, but now he thought that it was completely buried.
How did Rangea and Pteridinium secure food if they were immobile and lived beneath the sediment surface? Could they absorb food directly from pore water or the sediment itself? This might explain why ancient burrowers seem to avoid the Ediacarans; perhaps there is no food left dispersed through the sediments in their vicinity. Or, if they were indeed buried, were they simply trying to avoid desiccation in this tidal depositional environment?
Seilacher, in his counteractualistic fashion, thinks that conditions were different back then, perhaps with more food available within sediment. I am reminded of a quotation from L. P Hartley: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
We saw several hunters earlier at Hellmut Erni's farm. They had shot an oryx. Dolf scornfully referred to them as neo-Nazis. And indeed, they did have German flag patches on their green fatigue-style jackets. Drunk and noisy at the hotel in Aus, they kept us up at night.
Our rooms were again cold for the night, and the air was so dry that Frieder and I put sunscreen cream on our faces for protection from chapping. We weren't bothered by bugs, however. The cleaning staff had sprayed insecticide (Doom Super) on our pillowcases.
August 7 was our shunpiking day, a day to turn off the main roads and go to Rosh Pinah. The road to Rosh Pinah would have been paved, but the lead-zinc and silver reserves in the mine are largely depleted, and in any case the price of lead has been low ever since it was taken out of the gasoline. We passed the Schutztruppe POW camp on the left, a dissolving ruins of mud brick buildings. Kubub Farm was on our left, and we were once again surrounded by smoothly rounded granite outcrops.
The Nama escarpment forms hats on the underlying granites. Deposition of the Nama Group was synonymous with what is called the Pan-African Orogeny, a lengthy mountain building episode, the greatest geological event of the continent. The supercontinent Rodinia was destroyed and the subsequent supercontinent Gondwana formed by this series of geologic events.
As we continued south to Rosh Pinah, Seilacher continued with his story about growing up in a German university town. The best known of these towns are Marburg, Tübingen, Göttingen, and Giessen. Dolf grew up in Tübingen, the world's leader in soap bubble production. He is now an emeritus member of the university faculty at Tübingen.
Early in his scientific career, Seilacher supported his fieldwork and research by collecting and selling mushrooms (white champignons). Dolf's favorite mushroom is the rock mushroom, or Steinpilz. His expertise in field mycology is still remembered by elders of Tübingen, who periodically ask Edith Seilacher if she is the woman who married the handsome young mushroom vendor. Perhaps the entrepreneur-ship of young Seilacher's mycological fellowship later influenced his mushroom farmer hypothesis, which offers an explanation for otherwise problematic trace fossils. Seilacher has postulated that offshore burrow systems such as ichnogenus Paleodictyon (figure 4.6) represent sediment-walled microbial culture chambers, allowing the metazoan tracemaker to feast on the otherwise inaccessible banquet of refractory organic matter.
How were such mushroom farm burrow systems preserved? An early convert to the once radical concepts of density currents and turbidites, Seilacher now believes that the Paleodictyon burrow system is most often preserved at the base of a turbidite (submarine mudslide), where erosive scour followed by sand casting preserves the ichnofossil and protects it from obliteration by compaction of its muddy matrix. Not everyone agrees with Seilacher's assessment on this point, for some paleontologists believe that Paleodictyon is in fact a xenophyophore protist.44
We continued south toward Rosh Pinah, which is not far from the
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