Thursday, September 23, 2010

Prehistoric fish, footprints, and a dodo egg

Images: Above - the Coelacanth at the East London Museum. Below - the Nahoon footprints.

I was at the East London Museum early in the morning (7:35) to go with Kevin to meet Yvette, only to find out that she had to cancel. I’ll have to find another time that works for her. Since I was already there Kevin offered to take me on a tour of the museum, which I still hadn’t seen despite the hours I’ve spent holed up in their upstairs library. It’s a great museum with a lot of natural and cultural history, which really shows how richly diverse this small section of the country is in both those areas. The museum also has a few famous highlights that really make it something special. First and foremost is the Coelacanth, the prehistoric fish believed to have been extinct for millions of years, but which suddenly showed up in the East London harbor in 1938. It was like finding a dinosaur. The actual fish is housed at the museum, along with photographs, newspaper clippings and models. Then are the Nahoon footprints, which were made 200,000 years ago and were discovered in an outcropping of rock at Nahoon beach in 1964. They were made when a small child walked across a wet sand dune, and somehow conditions were perfect enough that they maintained their form as new sand blew across them and turned to stone, allowing these footprints to remain for hundreds of thousands of years. Finally is the rather controversial dodo egg (pictured in my post on Kevin), which the museum is struggling to keep possession of, as the family who first donated it to the museum is trying to take it back. At this point they’re not even certain that it is actually from a dodo – Kevin wants to do genetic testing, which he says would be relatively simple, but the family is worried that it could damage the egg. Of course, I would be nervous that it would turn out to be the egg of an ostrich, which some have argued over the years, and which would make it worthless. Because of its value, fragility and legal controversy, the actual egg is kept locked in a safe upstairs, but Kevin took it out to let me see it – a bland white egg encased in a clear perspex box. It looks like it could belong to any large bird. Our final stop, and one of my favorites, was the budding meteorite collection Kevin keeps in his office. It was maybe a little cooler to me than I’d like to admit: I know they're not terribly rare, but think about it - they’re actual rocks from space! And I touched them! One was sliced cleanly through and you could see the very unique and intricate crisscrossing structure in the metal. It was neat. In all, it was a very interesting and enlightening morning at the museum, despite having to postpone the interview I had been hoping for.

No comments:

Post a Comment