Prehistoric Australia

21 04 2012

at the entrance to the Naracoorte Caves National Park - perhaps fossils from the iron age????

Naracoorte is a small town in the south-east of the state of South Australia. It is about four hours drive from Adelaide, so more of an overnight stay than a day-trip, if being attempted with children.

Naracoorte was one of my favourite holiday places as a child – and more specifically, the Naracoorte Caves. These massive caves are naturally formed from the actions of water on limestone, and as well as featuring spectacular stalagmites (from the ground up), stalactites (from the ceiling down) helicotites (sideways!), columns and curtains (as they sound), they also feature fossils from prehistoric animals.

While there are no massive dinosaurs here, there are a large number of smaller fossils ranging from lizards and small rodents up to megafauna – giant prehistoric kangaroos and wombats, and my favourite, thylacaleo carnifex – the marsupial lion. The caves are still under excavation by archeologists so who knows what other animals will be found in the tonnes and tonnes of material yet to be sifted through.

The underground caves have guided tours while a few caves which have larger openings to the surface are self-guide. One of the caves is now home to a large colony of bats.

The rate of petrification in these caves is much (much) slower than the caves we visited in France, where the rate of water flow and the calcium load in the water was such that they could use it to petrify objects for the tourist trade. Here the stalactites, stalagmites etc grow at a miniscule rate.

another "iron age" fossil!

a banksia outside the caves

fairytale castles.....stalactites reflected in a perfectly still pond underground

these stagmites look like a nativity scene

stalactites formed along a crack in the ceiling

stalactites formed along a crack in the cave ceiling

a "curtain" stalactite feature

sink hole to the surface (looking upwards). These sorts of holes were how the animals fell into the caves and then were unable to get out again. Underneath these holes would be large piles of silt and rubble, unless a flood event had washed the rubble further into the cave.

Thylacaleo carnifex (marsupial lion)

Thylacaleo Carnifex (marsupial lion)

archeological dig

"Stanley" - megafauna kangaroo

thylacaleo carnifex - "Leo"

the archeological dig

Wet Cave

thylacaleo carnifex battling a giant snake


megafauna kangaroo (model)

columns in White Cave - look like architectural columns

Flinders University archeology digs in White Cave - each stripe in the soil indicates a different period of time

leaving White Cave

Want more pictures of Australian sites? Try….
Adelaide Botanic Gardens
In the red hot centre
Old Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium


Les Grottos en France

31 12 2011

One of the surprise tourist sites we visited in France was the grottos (caves).

While I was very happy looking around les châteaux et les musee, in the interests of entertaining and possibly educating the children we tried to include a range of other attractions, including the Caves of Lascaux , the Catacombes in Paris and the Standing Stones of Carnac.

Along the same lines, we also visited a number of grottos.

Mostly the grottos seemed to have been discovered by accident when they were half filled with silt, and dug out. Often they were on the side of cliffs of ancient floodplains.

The most surprising thing was a number of them had remarkably fast build-up of limestone into stalagmites and stalactites – sometimes as much as a centimetre per year – and the cave owners had found a way of putting this rapid calcification to profitable use.

In the base of the caves, situated under waterfalls and in pools, were a variety of tourist paraphernalia – ceramic statues, fake flowers, and rubber moulds. Over the course of a six-month period these would calcify, providing a steady stream (pardon the pun) of stone objet for sale as souvenirs. The rubber moulds fill with stone and when the mould is peeled off, they produce plaques that have amazing detail – looking as if they have been cast in ceramic or carved from stone. (A photograph of one such plaque is below)

a stone plaque produced by calcification in a French grotto

Now in Australia, the calcification process takes decades if not centuries – this process is unheard of and unviable. But the steady production of products in French grottos seems to have no ill effect on the natural wonders, with the exception of perhaps delaying the build up of calcium on the floor of the grotto. The products are piled up and require regular turning to ensure they don’t calcify together into a mass.

more objet beneath a cascade of stalactites

a cascading "curtain" of stactites

the backs of the rubber moulds filling with limestone to produce plaques

some of the objet undergoing calcification under a cascade of stactites

If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
The Louvre
Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower)