Barberton and its mountainland boasts some of the richest biological and natural diversities on the whole planet. The most significant of these wonders, is that the mountainland contains some of the earliest rock and life forms to appear on the planets surface roughly 3.200 million years ago. It still remains one of the best preserved and least altered early Archaean rock formations in the world.
This geological base underlies a rich biodiversity, with over 1.500 plant speciesrecorded (only second to the Cape Fynbos), 350 bird species and roughly 80 animal species recorded. Just on the one and a half kilometer Fortuna Hiking trail alone, over one hundred tree species have been identified. Several endemic butterflies, plants, spiders and insects roam the mountainland, and add their magnificence to the splendor that is the Barberton Mountainland.
Origin of life
If we go back in the Earths history, we find a time when there were neither continents nor oceans, for the surface of the planet was too hot to maintain any life. This fireball cooled over time and the earths crust started to develop. Gasses escaping from the earths interior eventually started to form an atmosphere. Later, when the atmosphere cooled, it started to rain, and probably did so for several centuries. This formed the first oceans. It is from these oceans that the first life on planet earth came forth. This was in the form of a type of bacteria. Several years ago a bacterial microfossil Archaeospheroides barbertonensis was discovered in the Barberton area, and identified as being one of the earliest forms of life, estimated to be about 3.200 million years old.
Planet Earth is estimated to be about 4.500 million years old. Starting off as a clump of gasses and forming a huge fireball, it contained neither landmass nor life. As the Earth cooled, it started to form a thin mantle. In some places volcanic activity ruptured this mantle and pushed the mineral rich magma to the surface. These were the first rocks and first forms of landmass.
The Barberton Mountainland contains some of the best preserved and least altered early Archaean volcanic sedimentary and igneous rocks on Earth. The Archaean is the earliest part of the earths history. Important geological events recorded and observed in these 3.400 million year old rocks have assisted researchers in attempts to describe the evolution of the Earths early crust. You can see and learn more about these early beginnings on a
This area offers the perfect opportunity to go back to the dawn of time and to the beginning of earth history. This is becoming increasingly popular at the changeover to the new millennium, where there exists an increasing interest in our past as well as in our future.
The Barberton Mountainland is one of the oldest regions on our planet. Some of the earliest and most intriguing rocks on our planet can be found here. In the race to find the oldest rocks on earth, only rocks from Greenland exceed the volcanic and sedimentary rocks around Barberton. The 3.5 billion-year old volcanic rocks in the Barberton Mountain Land, which scientists call the Barberton Greenstone Belt, provide direct evidence of conditions on the surface of the very early earth. Scientists from all over the world come to this scenic part of South Africa to use this window onto earth history to obtain information on the early surface of our earth and the primitive atmosphere.
There is clear evidence of volcanic activities such as submarine lava flows near the Komati River. These submarine lava flows formed pillow-like structures. The contemporary processes leading to these pillow structures can be studied along the so-called mid-oceanic ridgeline and now, the earths new crust is produced deep in the oceans to form the basaltic ocean floor. These basalts last only a few hundred million years, a relatively short time considering 4.500 million years of the earths history, and are swallowed again and recycled in the earths mantle along collision zones where so-called plate margins collide resulting in over or under thrusting of crustal material. There are very few places on our planet where ocean floor of that age can be studied in detail, and it is this, which makes the Barberton Mountain Land so special for geoscientists.
Many scientists agree that at the time when the early ocean floor formed, the earth was covered by one huge ocean, floored by basalts, with only a few landmasses, the proto-continents, sticking out above sea level. Moreover, some scientists believe that it is possible to see in this region the entire history of an ancient ocean floor which was slowly pushed and squeezed up to higher and higher levels as a result of granite magmas being emplaced underneath. At the same time the ocean floor was covered by progressively coarsening sediments, starting with ocean muds followed by silts and sands, which now appear as quartzites, and finally river pebbles. The latter became cemented together and formed a rock called conglomerate. Conglomerates are very common in the region and you are bound to stumble across some as you hike or drive in the mountainland. The volcanic rocks and the overlying sediments represent one of the oldest and best-preserved volcanic-sedimentary successions not only in South Africa, but also in the entire world.
At this stage, 3.500 million years ago, the atmosphere was very inhospitable for life, void of free oxygen and consisting mainly of water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrochloric acid. In these hostile environments, almost miraculously preserved are the fossilised remains of primitive bacteria, which are considered to he the earliest evidence of life on our planet, more than 2.500 million years ago. These most primitive and earliest forms of life developed into blue-green algae, the fossilized remains of which are called stromatolites. It was these algae, which were the first to apply photosynthesis, converting sunlight, carbon dioxide and nutrients in the surrounding seawater into oxygen. This was of essential importance for the development of life on land for without oxygen animals and humans cannot exist.
Also throughout the Barberton region, some of the ancient sandstones bear testimony to the existence of tidal currents in the form of small ripples, which migrated back and forth as the tide turned and are now petrified in the rock. This provides clear evidence that the moon was already governing the tides very early on in the history of our planet.
The Barberton Mountainland contains over 1.500 plant species, and the scientists are stll counting! This is only second to the Cape Fynbos in species diversity.
The best known plant found here is the Barberton Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii), discovered by Robert Jameson and named after him in 1889. Barberton is the only town known to have a flower named after it.
This lovely daisy is the parent plant of the many colour variants and doubles that flourish in gardens all over the world. The colours vary from white, cream and lemon, to yellow, rose-pink, salmon, orange and the original bright scarlet.
Another rare plant is Protea curvata which occurs in the mountain range south of Barberton. It is also unique to find the worlds largest aloe Aloe bainesii, which can attain a height of 30 meters, growing next to the smallest aloe, Aloe albida of only 15 cm, in the wooded ravines behind Barberton.
The Fortuna hiking trail has approximately 100 species of trees identified in a one and a half kilometre area and marked with identifying plates. Some fine examples of the Red Current and Wild Mulberry as well as Red Ivory and Wild Olive can be viewed on the trail.
Songimvelo Game Reserve
Songimvelo, situated in the Barberton Mountainlands is the Mpumalanga Parks Boards largest reserve, extending over 50.000 hectares in a little known corner of the province. The diverse landscapes of grasslands, mountains and forested ravines are home to a variety of game. The broad Komati River winds through the valley floor before flowing out of the reserve and into Swaziland on its way to the sea. More than twenty species of large herbivores have been introduced to the reserve since it was established in 1986. The grassy plains are home to herds of buffalo, zebra, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, waterbuck and blesbok. In the more wooded areas are herds of giraffe, kudu and impala. Songimvelo also has a herd of elephant introduced from the Kruger Park and numbers of white rhino. Although there are no lions, the predators niche is filled by brown hyena, black-backed jackal and leopard. The reserve is rich in bird species and more than 300 have been recorded. The area has been inhabited for hundreds of years and archaeological sites comprised of circular walls and ruins of small houses and religious structures date back to perhaps 400 BC.
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