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Fossil trace rock’s glory restored after 58 years
Author: Wiida Fourie-Basson
Published: 05/02/2020

​​Nearly 60 years after the “Rock with the tortoise tracks" was removed from a farm in the Sandveld region to be exhibited in the foyer of the Chamber of Mines building at Stellenbosch University (SU), family of the original owners had the opportunity to visit the exhibit.

A memorial plate, commemorating the finding place of the rock, was also officially handed over to Mrs Lettie Veldsman, daughter of the farm owner Mr Maans Visser, and her husband Mr Gert Veldsman, during a special ceremony on 22 January 2020.

This is thanks to the efforts of Emeritus Professor Izak Rust, a retired lecturer in geology at SU, who started in 2005 to research the history behind the origin of this ten tonne rock, cemented into the wall in the foyer of the Chamber of Mines-building in 1963. On the rock are the fossilized tracks of long extinct marine animals who scurried over a large intertidal plain more than 470 million years ago. In the 1960s these fossil tracks represented the oldest marine fossil tracks found in South Africa. The discovery was described by Prof Matie Taljaard from SU in the South African Geographical Journal in 1962. The locals of the  Sandveld region referred to the tracks as “tortoise tracks" or “Klip met die skilpadspore".

“In 1962 I was a 26-year old lecturer in the Departement of Geology when this gigantic reddish sandstone arrived at the University from a farm in the Sandveld. At that time I was too busy with other things and only partly aware of the goings-on behind the scences," recounts Prof Rust.

Amidst differences with  SU about the allegedly wrongful removal of the rock, and damage to a wheat land and infrastructure during the process, the owners of the farm Moesdam, Messrs Maans and Gertjan Visser, never received recognition for donating the rock. The University also did not honor the undertaking to erect a memorial at the founding place of the rock, Rust explains.

Today, nearly 60 years later, there are three plates underneath the Brandenburg rock exhibit: in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa, acknowledging the donation to the University. An information panel explains the significance of the finding, and a scale-model of a trilobite, by the well-known Italian paleo-artist Fabio Pastori, brings the exhibit to life.


The Brandenburg rock belongs to the Graafwater Formation of the Table Mountain Group, and is about 485-479 million years old (Early Ordovician). The several different fossil footprints and holes on it was made by extinct marine arthropods (invertebrate scale animals that lived in the oceans), namely eurypterids and trilobites. Three unique types of trace print fossils on the rock were described and named. No fossils of these animals have ever been found, only typical footprints and other structures made by them. The original Early Ordovician environment in the area now known as Brandenburg was a large inter-tidal plain. – Izak Rust


On the photo, at the official handing-over of the Brandenburg-Moesdam memorial plate on 22 January 2020, from left to right: Mr George Oliver and Dr Ryan Tucker (Department of Earth Sciences), Mr Koos Veldsman, Prof Alex Kisters (Head of the Department of Earth Sciences), Ms Lettie Veldsman, Prof Louise Warnich (Dean of the Faculty of Science) and Dr Hannes Theron, former geologist with the Geological Survey of South Africa. Photo: Anton Jordaan