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Footprints in the Sand

When you are next visiting East London’s Nahoon beach, and you see a set of footprints disappearing into the distance, around 124,000 years ago similar footprints were made by a child, mongoose, hare and bird. This is what we, a group of journalists from the South African Freelance Association, found out on a visit to the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve.The tour hosted by Tourism Buffalo City, took us to the MBSA Coastal Visitors and Education Centre where Leigh- Ann Kretzman proceeded to show us a replica of the footprints left in the sand all those years ago.

 The discovery was made in 1964, when two gentlemen, Bill Hartley and Rhett Kaiser, employed by the East London city council were inspecting a sewer line and came across the fossilised track ways. Until then, the fossilised footprints at Langebaan, discovered in 1955, had dominated the special studies in ichnology, (study of trace fossils)  Nahoon Footprint find was subject to research and the dating of the sandstone became paramount objectives of Dr Roberts and Kevin Cole of the East London Museum. Professor Mountain of Rhodes University was instrumental in the dating of the rocks which were revealed to be of a minimum age of 29,000. This dating remained in place for many years, until modern technology in luminescence showed us that a revised dating of the Nahoon find was in fact 124,000 years old, which was accepted worldwide. This made the Langebaan fossil find a youngster in comparison, elevating the Nahoon sandstone find one of the oldest examples of fossilised track ways of such an event in the world. The replica slab at the centre shows clearly the tracks of a young Homo Sapiens child, a bird and what appears to be a hare and a mongoose making their way towards the sea. What makes this find so remarkable is the fact that the tracks on the same palaeo- surface that must have been made in a short space of time from each other.

 The taphonomy (how the footprints were made and preserved) presented a challenge to the scientists at the time, as the footprints were protruding out of the sandstone slab as a positive impression. The mystery was solved, in part, as the track way was a representation of sand which filled the original prints, and this sand lithified over time whilst the dune was building up, preserving the tracks of the dune walkers. A well-illustrated guide on taphonomy is on display at the MBSA Coastal Education Centre for those interested.

Other fossilised finds have been found, one notable discovery is on the ceiling of a cave in the reserve. On the ceiling, you may well ask, as I did, as this seemed to defy the laws of gravity. The explanation was simple when explained by Kevin Cole of the Buffalo City Museum. The tracks were made prior the caves development, and as time went by, the track way was pushed upwards until the prints were above the cave and stayed there until detaching itself from the roof and landing on the cave floor.

The boardwalk around the Nahoon Point is impressive to say the least, beautifully built showing off the spectacular scenery to its best advantage, and is wheelchair friendly, giving the viewer spectacular views across the coastline.

 Nahoon is popular surfing spot, as is evident by the droves of wetsuit clad surfies paddling out to catch the ideal wave. Not so long ago there was spectacular footage shown worldwide, of two great white sharks attacking a Nahoon surfer simultaneously, the surfer thrown into the air while the sharks worried the board. Amazingly he survived the attack, and even more amazing continues to surf atthe very same spot.  While on the boardwalk I noticed a peculiar web spun over some Red Milkwood, with worms actively moving about inside and on enquiring what these worms were, I was informed by Leigh-Ann that they were the Bostra Moth, which the Red Milkwood (Mimusops caffra) plays host , their caterpillar webs often enveloping entire forests in March, much to the consternation of the public, who report these events to their nearest Nature conservation officer.

The Nahoon Nature reserve has become a favourite for day trippers and one can easily see why, with its easy access, often you will find someone spending a lazy morning seated at one of the viewpoints reading a book and occasionally pausing to admire the view.

Whilst on the subject of beaches, there are some 400 types of shell to be found in and around the beaches along the East London coastline. This makes the area a haven for shell collectors and hobbyist alike. Sadly, according to Dr Mary Cole the Museum Macacologist, some of the less ethical collectors illegally dredge in deeper waters to find the rarer specimens which are so sought after.