The Waterberg (Northern Sotho: Thaba Meetse) is a mountainous massif of approximately 654,033 hectare in north Limpopo Province, South Africa. The average height of the mountain range is 600 m with a few peaks rising up to 2000 m above sea level. Vaalwater town is located just north of the mountain range. The extensive rock formation was shaped by hundreds of millions of years of riverine erosion to yield diverse bluff and butte landform. The ecosystem can be characterised as a dry deciduous forest or Bushveld. Within the Waterberg there are archaeological finds dating to the Stone Age, and nearby are early evolutionary finds related to the origin of humans.
Waterberg (Thaba Meetse) is the first region in the northern part of South Africa to be named as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
The underlying rock formation derives from the Kaapvaal Craton, formed as a precursor island roughly 2.7 billion years ago. This crustal formation became the base of the Waterberg, which was further transformed by upward extrusion of igneous rocks. These extruded rocks, containing minerals such as vanadium and platinum, are called the Bushveld Igneous Complex. The original extent of this rock upthrust involved about 250,000 square kilometers, and is sometimes called the Waterberg Supergroup.
Sedimentary deposition from rivers cutting through Waterberg endured until roughly 1.5 billion years ago. In more recent time (around 250 million years ago) the Kaapvaal craton collided with the supercontinent Gondwana, and split Gondwana into its modern-day continents. Waterberg today contains mesas, buttes and some kopje outcrops. Some of cliffs stand up to 550 meters above the plains, with exposed multi-coloured sandstone.
The sandstone formations could retain groundwater sufficient to make a suitable environment for primitive man. The cliff overhangs offered natural shelters for these early humans. The first human ancestors may have been at Waterberg as early as three million years ago, since Makapansgat, 40 kilometers distant, has yielded skeletons of Australopithecus africanus. Hogan suggests that Homo erectus, whose evidence remains were also discovered in Makapansgat, "may have purposefully moved into the higher areas of the Waterberg for summer (December to March) game".
Bushmen entered Waterberg around two thousand years ago. They produced rock paintings at Lapalala within the Waterberg, including depictions of rhinoceros and antelope. Early Iron Age settlers in Waterberg were Bantu, who had brought cattle to the region. The Bantu created a problem in Waterberg, since cattle reduced grassland caused invasion of brush species leading to an outbreak of the tse-tse fly. The ensuing epidemic of sleeping sickness depopulated the plains, but at higher elevations man survived, because the fly cannot survive above 600 meters.
Later people left the first Stone Age artifacts recovered in northern South Africa. Starting about the year 1300 AD, Nguni settlers arrived with new technologies, including the ability to build dry-stone walls, which techniques were then used to add defensive works to their Iron Age forts, some of which walls survive to today. Archaeologists continue to excavate Waterberg to shed light on the Nguni culture and the associated dry-stone architecture.
The first white settlers arrived in Waterberg in 1808 and the first naturalist a Swede appeared just before mid 19th century. Around the mid 19th century, a group of Dutch travelers set out from Cape Town in search of Jerusalem. Arriving in Waterberg, they mis-estimated their distance and thought they had reached Egypt.
After battles between Dutch settlers and tribesmen, the races co-existed until around 1900. The Dutch brought further cattle grazing, multiplying the impacts of indigenous tribes. By the beginning of the 20th century there were an estimated 200 western inhabitants of the Waterberg, and grassland loss began to have a severe impact upon native wildlife populations.
For more information see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterberg_Biosphere
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