Since 1991, Franco-Namibian palaeontological research has been conducted within a single program, the Namibia Palaeontology Expedition (NPE), whose field activities focus on three regions of Namibia: Kaokoland, Otavi Mountains & Sperrgebiet.

Keywords: Eolianites, Karst, paleobiodiversity(ies), paleoenvironment(s), bio-chronology, paleogeography, Eocene, Neogene, Miocene, Plio-Pleistocène

 

Research in Namibia is carried out in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Namibia (GSN) in Windhoek, where all the collected samples are deposited, and with the appropriate permits issued by the National Heritage Council of Namibia (NHC) and the authorization of the National Commission on Research, Science and Technology (NCRST). The NPE is coordinated by Dominique Gommery, Brigitte Senut and Martin Pickford. The NPE aims to study the evolution of biodiversity and continental environments during the Cenozoic in this region of Africa.

Kaokoland

Kaokoland is a vast arid to hyperarid region in northwestern Namibia, with the main vegetation category being mopane forest in the east and dune and rock desert in the west. In the northeast, it is mountainous, reaching altitudes of 2,000 meters, and in the west, it extends to the Atlantic Ocean. In the highlands of Kaokoland there are abundant deposits of cascading travertines (tuffs).

Research conducted between 2016 and 2019 by the NPE in the Sesfontein area has resulted in the discovery of travertines containing exceptionally rich paleofauna and paleoflora with dates ranging from Pliocene to present day. Several travertine deposits have yielded lithic tools, including cuttings indicating that the manufacture of these tools took place in existing shelters and cavities in these geological formations.

In 2021, travertines were identified further north in the Opuwo area. One of the travertines at Ozombindi, contains a huge bone breccia comprising thousands of large mammal bones (equidae, bovidae, hyaenidae, rhinocerotidae) but so far no evidence of human activity. The gap is interpreted as representing a natural trap that developed in the travertine, into which the animals fell and could not get out.

It is clear, with the exception of Okovanatje, that the current climatic conditions of the region are not conducive to travertine deposition. During the Pliocene and Pleistocene, on the other hand, huge travertine deposits accumulated in many places in the Kaokoland highlands. These travertines provide evidence that the region experienced phases of wetter and cooler climatic conditions than today. Detailed study of the paleofauna preserved in the Kaokoland travertines can provide information on the chronology of formation of these deposits, and thus evidence of climatic changes during the Plio-Pleistocene. The presence of lithic tools in some of these deposits suggests an interest in these travertines for paleoanthropology. It is important to note here that australopithecines were discovered for the first time in cavity fills in travertines from Thabaseek, South Africa. No hominids have yet been found in Kaokoland, but the potential for such discoveries is obvious.

The immediate goal of the NPE in Kaokoland is to identify and collect as much information as possible about these travertines. Studies will assess their paleontological potential, determine their age, and report on their socio-cultural significance. Several of the travertines, such as Ozombindi and Otjikondovirongo, would make excellent tourist destinations that could be developed by local communities.

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Vue du paysage autour du site de travertin (tufs de cascade) d’Ozombindi (au centre) dans le Kaokoland.
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© D. Gommery
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Prospection des travertins du site d’Ozombindi dans le Kaokoland.
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© D. Gommery
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Détail de l’amas osseux dans les travertins du site d’Ozombindi dans le Kaokoland.
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© D. Gommery
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Rangée dentaire supérieur d’un équidé dans les travertins du site d’Ozombindi dans le Kaokoland.
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© D. Gommery
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Autre accumulation de travertins dans la région d’Ozombindi dans le Kaokoland.
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© D. Gommery
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Empreintes de végétaux dans une autre accumulation de travertins dans la région d’Ozombindi dans le Kaokoland.
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© D. Gommery
Otavi Mountains

In the north of Namibia, there is a dolomitic massif, the Otavi Mountains, where karst fills were established at least from the Middle Miocene. Surveys conducted by B. Senut and M. Pickford between 1991 and 2001 in this region led to the discovery of numerous vertebral remains including those of a hominoid, Otavipithecus namibiensis, in Middle Miocene levels. More recently, the study of remains discovered in the years at Berg Aukas, confirm the presence of a second hominoid, Kenyapithecus. At that time, hominoids are diversified in East Africa, but they are mainly in Eurasia. The Namibian remains represent hominoids that lived in the southernmost region of Africa. Other Upper Miocene and Plio-Pleistocene levels have yielded fauna including primates.

In 2022, research in the Otavi Mountains region was made possible by the award of the MNHN ATM project 'Paleobiodiversity of Neogene and Quaternary primates in Namibia (PalPrim Namibia)'. The objectives are to study changes in paleobiodiversity and environments in order to understand the evolution of primates (hominoids, hominids & cercopithecids) over the last 14 million years in northern Namibia. Fossiliferous breccia blocks have been collected from different sites in the Otavi Mountains and will be prepared for the Geological Survey of Namibia. At one of the Kombat mine sites, sediments were collected, sieved and sorted, resulting in the recovery of fossil remains (bovids, damsels, rodents, snakes) and carved tools.

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Vue de paysage des Monts Otavi.
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© D. Gommery
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Vue du site de Berg Aukas avec des remplissages karstiques datant du Miocène moyen au Pléistocène.
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© D. Gommery
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Mandibule de l’holotype d’Otavipithecus namibiensis provenant d’un dépôt de brèche du Miocène moyen de Berg Aukas.
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© M. Pickford
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Vue du site de Harasib 3a avec brèches fossilifères datant du Miocène supérieur.
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© D. Gommery
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Vue d’un crassier de brèches fossilifères du site de Prospekteer Kop à Rietfontein, Monts Otavi datant du Plio-Pléistocène.
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© D. Gommery
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Un bloc de brèche fossilifère du site de Rietfontein datant du Plio-Pléistocène.
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© D. Gommery
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Vue du site de Kombat E900, à droite dépôt du pléistocène moyen.
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© D. Gommery
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Brèche in situ avec des gastéropodes du site de Kombat E900.
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© D. Gommery
Sperrgebiet

Neogene (mainly Lower Miocene) fossil levels have been prospected since the 1993s in the Sperrgebiet diamond forbidden area in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Namibia and Namdeb (formerly CDM Pty Ltd). In 2008 and 2015, we identified paleogenic levels in the area for the first time, representing a major scientific advance for African paleontology. The Eocliff travertine contains millions of fossils, mostly micromammals. Indeed, levels of this age were only known in Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya and in the Cabinda territory in Angola.

Our research concerns Paleogene and Neogene paleoenvironments, which can be compared with those of other regions of Africa and thus allow interregional comparisons of paleoenvironments and thus climates. These faunas are also important for establishing a local biostratigraphy. An important aspect of these faunas is that they contain primates and give information on fossil strepsirhinians but also on the first Simiiformes.

Considered by some evolutionists as an evolutionary dead end, southern Africa and in particular Namibia is in fact particularly important for understanding intra- and intercontinental faunal dispersal during the Cenozoic.

Another aspect of our research concerns the geochemistry of fossils and sediments which complements the results obtained from fossil anatomical studies and leads to improve the accuracy of environmental reconstructions. Another facet of the work consists in linking the fossiliferous deposits to the geomorphology of the region.

Finally, during a survey with the Namdeb in the Namib Desert, we have identified new areas where fossil dunes outcrop with significant paleontological potential and which could be compared to those in the southern Sperrgebiet (Orange River area) and Namib-Naukluft where we carried out research in the 1990s-2000.

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Le gisement d’Eocliff consiste en un dôme de tufs d’eau douce, d’âge Bartonien-Priabonien (environ 37 Ma), qui renferme une très riche faune de petits mammifères, ainsi que des oiseaux et des reptiles et de rares grands mammifères représentés par des hyracoïdes.
Credits
© B. Senut
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Le site d’Eocliff (37 Ma environ) a livré de nombreux restes de sengis fossiles. Six nouveaux taxa ont été reconnus : 4 brachyodontes (dents à couronne basse - D, E) à semi-hypsodontes (dents hautes avec couronne – A, B) et deux hypsélodontes (dents à croissance continue sans racines – C, F) reflétant les différences alimentaires. A : fragment de maxillaire de Promyohrax, B : maxillaire de Macroscelidea Incertae sedis, C : molaire supérieure d’Afrohyselodontus grandis, D : maxillaire de l’holotype de Namasengi mockae, E : mandibule d’Eorhynchocyon, F : museau d’Afrohypselodontus minus.
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© B. Senut
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Les gisements paléogènes de la Sperrgebiet en Namibie ont livré des centaines de restes assez exceptionnels de sengis fossiles dont la diversité est riche. Ici, sont représentés comme ces dents incisiformes denticulées de Namasengi mockeae, présentées en vue stéréo-linguale.
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© B. Senut
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À Langental, les sédiments du Miocène inférieur remplissent une vallée qui s’ouvre vers l’océan atlantique. Seul 1,5 mètre de sédiments affleure sur plusieurs hectares. Les monticules que l’on voit ici correspondent aux résidus de l’activité minière.
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© B. Senut
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Le gisement de Langental en Namibie est un des rares sites du Miocène inférieur connu en Afrique australe. Il s’agit d’un remplissage d’une vallée par des sédiments dans lesquels ont été piégés non seulement des fossiles, mais aussi des diamants d’où la restriction d’accès à ce lieu. Parmi les micromammifères, on trouve des lagomorphes, comme cette mandibule.
Credits
© B. Senut
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Les nouvelles découvertes réalisées dans les sites du Miocène inférieur de Namibie confirment la présence de deux genres de Suidae Palaeochoerus et Nguruwe. Il s’agit ici de la mandibule de Nguruwe namibense (GSN LT 1’19a) provenant de Langental (Miocène inférieur, Namibie).
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© B. Senut
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À Elisabethfeld, les sédiments remplissent une paléo-vallée ouverte à l’Oligocène aux périodes de basse mer et qui s’est comblée lors de la transgression burdigalienne. Les dépôts d’Elisabethfeld consistent en des limons d’eau douce de couleur rouge et verte, avec des intercalations de conglomérats.
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© B. Senut
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À Elisabethfeld, gisement du Miocène inférieur de la Sperrgebiet (Namibie), les micromammifères sont souvent découverts dans des crottes de rongeurs fossilisées dans les silts rouges, comme ici ce rongeur.
Credits
© B. Senut
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Site de Grillental présente des couches fossilifères du Miocène inférieur avec des racines d’arbres fossilisées.
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© M. Pickford
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Site de Grillental présente des nids de termites polycalate, Hodotermes, qui vivent actuellement dans les savanes et steppes, mais pas dans le désert. Donc ils montrent que Grillental était plus humide au Miocène inférieur.
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© M. Pickford
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À Kaukausib Fontein, les grès sont intercalés avec les niveaux de travertins. Ce sont dans les niveaux de grès que l’on trouve les restes de grands mammifères.
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© B. Senut
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Les grès pliocènes ou pléistocènes de la Kaukausib Fontein ont livré un squelette de ruminant, laissé en place en raison de la difficulté de son extraction et de sa fragilité.
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© B. Senut
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À Kaukausib Fontein, une molaire de suidé est préservée dans le grès assez grossier du Pliocène ou du Pléistocène.
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© B. Senut
Partners
  • CR2P – UMR 7207 : Dominique Gommery, Brigitte Senut, Martin Pickford, Frank Sénégas, Laura Bento Da Costa

  • ISTeP – UMR 7193 : Loïc Ségalen

  • Geological Survey of Namibia (GSN) : Helke Mocke

Recent and major publications

Pickford M. (2019). Kaokoland Cascade Tufa Survey: Interim Report. Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 21, 82-93.

Pickford M. & Senut B. (2010). Karst Geology and Palaeobiology of Northern Namibia. Memoir of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 21, 1-74.

Pickford, M. Mocke, H. Senut, B. Ségalen, L. & Mein, P. (2016). Fossiliferous Plio-Pleistocene Cascade Tufas of Kaokoland, Namibia. Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 17, 87-114.

Dauteuil O., Picart C., Guillocheau F., Pickford M. & Senut B. (2018). Cenozoic deformation and geomorphologic evolution of the Sperrgebiet (Southern Namibia). Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 18, 1-18.

Godinot M, Senut B & Pickford M (2018). Primitive Adapidae from Namibia sheds light on the early primate radiation in Africa. Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 20, 140-162.

Mourer-Chauviré C., Pickford M. & Senut B. (2018). New data on stem-group Galliformes, Charadriiformes, and Psittaciformes from the middle Eocene of Namibia. Paleontología y Evolución de las Aves. Contribuciones Cientificas del Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia”, 7, 99-131.

Pickford M. & Senut B. (2010). Afrohyrax namibensis (Hyracoidea, Mammalia) from the Early Miocene of Elisabethfeld and Fiskus, Sperrgebiet, Namibia. Communications of the geological Survey of Namibia, 18, 93-112.

Pickford M., Senut B. & Bento da Costa L. (2018). Precision concerning the age of Hexen Kessel, Sperrgebiet, Namibia. Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 19, 132-140.

Pickford M., Gommery D., Kgasi L., Vilakazi N., Senut B. & Mocke H. (2019). Southern African Tetraconodontinae: recent discoveries. Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 21, 59-81

Senut B., Mocke H. & Pickford M. (2019). Stratigraphy, Palaeontology and Archaeology of Klinghardtfelder, Sperrgebiet, Namibia. Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 21, 94-111.

Pickford M., Senut B. & Runds M. (2020). On the age of the artefact-bearing sediments in the valley north of Kerbehuk, Sperrgebiet, Namibia. Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 22, 81-90.

Senut B. & Pickford M. (2021). Micro-cursorial mammals from the late Eocene tufas at Eocliff, Namibia. Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia, 23, 89-159.

Bento Da Costa L. & Senut B. (2022). Skeleton of Early Miocene Bathyergoides neotertiarius (Rodentia, Mammalia) from Namibia: behavioural implications. Geodiversitas 44 (10), 291-322. https://doi.org/10.5252/geodiversitas2022v44a10

Mocke H., Pickford M., Senut B. & Gommery D. (2022). New information about African late middle Miocene to latest Miocene (13-5.5 Ma) Hominoidea; Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia 24, 33-66.

Mocke H., Pickford M., Senut B. & Gommery D. (2022). Large mammal bone breccia in Pleistocene calc-tufa, northern Kaokoland, Kunene Region, Namibia. Communications of the Geological Survey of Namibia 25, 66-79.

Senut B., Pickford M., Gommery D., Mocke H. & Musalizi S. (2022). Dr Jorge Morales’s contribution to the French Expeditions in the Cainozoic of Africa (Kenya Uganda, Namibia). Historical Biology 34 (8), 1660-1671.https://doi.org/10.1080/08912963.2022.2032028

Published on: 17/02/2023 14:55 - Updated on: 17/02/2023 15:06