This section - the Earth's Crust - features four world heritage sites that were listed for their geological interest and unique fossil record. They are places of ‘exceptional natural beauty' (criterion vii) or ‘outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features' (criterion viii). Of course, the most distinguishing feature of the Earth's Crust in Africa is the Great Rift Valley - a feature that is so important that it is covered in its own separate section.
Victoria Falls is one of the great icons of Africa - and arguably the most impressive waterfall in the world - where visitors can stand in a plume of spray scarcely 100 metres from where the great Zambesi plunges into the abyss. Elsewhere in southern Africa, Vredefort Dome - though much less spectacular as a place to visit - reveals the secrets of the oldest and largest meteorite impact known on earth - a huge crater 190 km across created more than 2,000 million years ago when a massive meteorite, 10 km across, collided with the earth. At the other end of the continent the desert sands outside Cairo have been blown away to reveal - at Wadi Al Hitan, Whale Valley - the fossilized remains of hundreds of ancient whales. These fossils reveal how the predecessors of modern-day cetaceans originated on dry land and 40 million years ago were evolving into modern marine mammals with five-fingered flippers in the front and legs, feet and toes at the rear. Four thousand kilometres away in West Africa, the Bandiagara escarpment, Land of the Dogons, is a massive sandstone cliff which stretches for 150 kilometres through the Sahel, where the Dogon people have developed a unique culture closely linked with nature. The designation of this area as a world heritage site is based on both natural and cultural criteria, and the mud-built houses and granaries, many elaborately decorated, clinging to the massive cliffs, is one of the most enduring images of West Africa. Follow the links to learn more about these amazing places!
Missing Links: Africa has scarcely been explored in terms of its geology and fossil record, so there are sure to be extraordinary new discoveries in future. The ‘tentative lists' of possible new world heritage sites include, for example, a dinosaur fossil site in Niger.
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