The rocks of Nieu-Bethesda are part of the Karoo Supergroup. These were formed in the Permian Period, between 285 million and 180 million years ago when the continents were merged in a supercontinent called Pangea. The Karoo was then a vast inland basin. Dwyka tillites (a type of rock) are evidence that the area was once glaciated. Later, the basin became the site of inland deltas, seas, lakes and swamps accompanied by a great deal volcanic activity.
The layers of shales and the sandstones of the Karoo Supergroup were formed when mud, sand and clay was washed into the basin. These strata have been a boon to paleontologists who have found fossil remains of ancient reptiles and amphibians in the rocks. Fossils of these animals and ancient plants were found in the rocks around Nieu Bethesda.
During the Permian Period, the present day Nieu-Bethesda area was covered by huge meandering rivers. The floodplains teemed with prehistoric animals that prospered in the wet forest. These were the mammal ancestors, called therapsids. When these animals died, their bodies were covered with mud and which preserved the remains as fossils.
Therapsids of Nieu Bethesda
Gorgonopsians were formidable predators also called ‘terrible eyes’. They had dagger-like canine teeth like those of sabre-tooth cats. Rubidgea, a tiger-sized animal and the largest gorgonopsian roamed the floodplains. Gorgonopsians preyed on the herbivorous dicynodonts (two dogteeth), which had beaks like tortoises and defended themselves with a pair of tusks like those of a warthog.
ulacephalodon and Dicynodon were two large dicynodonts that wandered in herds around the Nieu-Bethesda area 253 million years ago.
The pareiasaurs were another group of plant eaters that grew to the size of a cow. These animals may have been relatives of the tortoises and turtles. Ferns and horsetails, which were common at the time, may still be found in damp spots today. The forests were dominated by Glossopteris trees whose fossilised leaves formed the coal which is mined in South Africa today.
Source: Eastern Cape Tourism