Ever dreamed of being the one to make a ground-breaking discovery? In this cave house in Lesotho, Getaway’s Tyson Jopson thought he’d finally gotten his chance.
Some months ago a group of researchers sauntering down an informal road outside of Maseru stumbled upon the footprint of a two-storey-high dinosaur. It’s rather a big deal. A megatheropodic deal, if you will.
See, until recently it was believed the dinosaurs that roamed this region had been comparatively puny. Take the much-lauded Lesothosaurus, for example. It was knee-height and ate flowers. Hardly a picture of Jurassic ferocity. In fact, I reckon my neighbour’s cat could defeat it in a one-on-one.
Mittens is vicious.
Isn’t it interesting how such monumental discoveries, the kind that change what we know about entire eras, can sometimes sommer just be stumbled upon on a dirt road somewhere? That thought occurred to me as I was staring at the ceiling of an orange-brick house built into a cave south of Lesotho’s magnificent Blue Mountains. Outside, it was dry and dusty and the sun was beating the hills into frightful shades of beige. But inside, the house was cool and dim and not all that far from cosy. On its ceiling was the subject of my rapt attention: the unmistakeable footprint of a dinosaur.
‘Reverend David Ellenberger, a young Swiss printer-turned-missionary, built this house in 1866 after noticing a rock located on the premises of some huts that were generously given to him and his family by Chief Moorosi,’ said Phakisi Kori. He is the custodian of this cave house, and its tour guide.
‘You’ll notice the ceiling is very low,’ he continued, ‘but Ellenberger and his family of 12 lived here comfortably for much of their lives.’
For a moment I considered the dozen hunching Ellenbergers and their poor crooked spines. Then Phakisi continued to talk about them and I grew agitated. Surely this man has begun the history lesson a number of million years too late? When is he going to talk about the footprint on the ceiling?
Phakisi carried on. We were now somewhere around 1875, expounding on the region’s turbulent history and, as tends to happen when one is being expounded to about turbulent history, my mind began to wander.
What if he’s never noticed it before? What if, with all the hunching that’s been going on here, nobody has bothered to look up? What if I am the first? I could rewrite history! Here, above me, is evidence that some dinosaurs walked upside down.
Phakisi was well into the 1900s, clearly ignoring the dinosaur in the room.
I wasn’t listening. I was developing theories. Some were relatively cogent. Could this have been a pterodactyl, hanging upside down like a bat? No, its claws were not clenched, and the rock was too flat to achieve significant purchase. Some theories were a little wilder (there is no wrong direction in the pursuit of truth): could the Ellenbergers have had one for a pet? Perhaps the reverend, to cure boredom, would hold it upside-down and march it along the ceiling like Homer Simpson, chanting, ‘Spider Dino, Spider Dino, does whatever a…’ No, that’s ridiculous. Everyone knows that dinosaurs don’t like to be held.
I realised I might be a little under-qualified for this sort of speculation. So I abandoned the pursuit of knowledge and began the pursuit of fame. There will be a dinosaur named after me! The Jopsonosaurus. No, I am too humble to impose my name on the annals of palaeontology. I shall call it the invertosaurus and the species will take its proud place in the dictionary beside invertebrates. They’ve been in the limelight far too long. Brates shmates. Anyone can invert a brate! Inverting a saurus, now that’s something.
I was about to unveil my discovery when Phakisi pointed at the ceiling.
‘And this,’ he said, ‘is the footprint of a typical dinosaur found in this region, discovered after the cave was excavated. But it’s unique because the print is of the bottom of its foot. This happens when a layer of muddy sediment is trodden on and then filled with earth, which hardens and sets. When the soft layers beneath it erode, or are excavated, you get a perfect negative of its foot. It’s easy to notice because instead of being indented, the print is sticking out.’
‘Unique, don’t you think?’ he said.
‘Yes, yes, very unique’, I mused. ‘I noticed that right away.’
Tyson travelled extensively to research and compile the Getaway 4X4 Guide to Lesotho, in association with Toyota. It’s free with the December 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
Our December issue features the only 4X4 guide to Lesotho you’ll ever need, an incredible slackpacking adventure in Namibia, 50 ways to boost your summer holidays here in SA, 12 stays in Simon’s Town and a Mpumalanga road trip we like better than the Panorama Route.