Fraserburg – Fantastic Fossils

Text and Photographs by Chris Marais

Fraserburg, set in the middle of a key Northern Cape wool-farming district, still maintains an authentic country environment, with its wide streets and Karoo-style home architecture.

The town came into being in 1851 and served the local agricultural community in trade and spirit. Today, it has an added function, that of a prime off-the-beaten-track destination for travellers looking for a unique cultural experience.

The Pepper Pot building in the middle of Fraserburg.

A stroll down the quiet streets of Fraserburg brings one to a number of interesting sites, beginning with the odd-shaped Peperbus (pepper pot) building. Built under the guidance of Rev Carl Bamberger in 1861, it was first meant to simply house a large bell that could be run in an emergency. In the years that followed, the little building did duty as the market master’s office, the town library and the magistrate’s office.

Olive Schreiner, the writer-activist, left her mark all over the Karoo. She lived in places like Cradock, Hanover, De Aar and Matjiesfontein. She even visited Fraserburg on occasion, staying with her sisters Alice and Kate, who lie buried in the cemetery at the edge of town.

Headstone hand-cut in the local cemetery.

A number of gravestones were hand-carved by celebrated crafters, many of whom also built the solid stone kraal walls found all over Fraserburg and on surrounding farms. Because stone was the most available building material in the Upper Karoo during the Victorian era, it was also used for local churches and corbelled houses.

One of the most interesting features of Fraserburg is the Old Parsonage Museum, where a remarkably intact fossil entitled Livestock of the Ancient Karoo has pride of place. Discovered on Ayesfontein Farm, it is a calf-sized ancient Rhachiocephalus.

Calf-sized ancient Rhachiocephalus fossil on display at the Old Parsonage Museum.

Over 250 million years old, it had a large head, and was part of the Permian era pantheon of proto-mammals, some of whom evolved to become the warm-blooded animals that are prevalent today.

In the same room, from the same era, is a model of a Bradysaurus, a squat beast that would have stood no higher than a man’s waist. Palaeontologists say that these primitive reptiles were bulk grazers with teeth that chopped plants up into rough pieces.

Stone-built corbelled house – one of the features of the Fraserburg area.

Another piece of pre-history on display is the stone fossil of the Golden Fish of Fraserburg called Atherstonia.

Visitors go on arranged tours of the Palaeo Surface site on Gansfontein Farm, where ancient water pools became mud and then, over hundreds of millions of years, a stone surface trapping various footprints for eternity. Most eye-catching of them all is the clear print of a Bradysaurus, as if it just passed by yesterday.

Victorian Karoo-style houses still remain in Fraserburg.


  • Die Kliphuis Guest House:

Tel: 023 741 1870


  • Die Tuishuis Guest House

Tel: 023 741 1379 or 076 786 7163




Tel: 072 386 0102


  • The Logan Drama Festival

Tel: 023 741 1093

Northern Cape Tourism Authority:

For an insider’s view on life in the Karoo, get the Three-Book Special of Karoo Roads I, Karoo Roads II and Moving to the Platteland – Life in Small Town South Africa by Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais for only R720, including courier costs in South Africa. For more details, contact Julie at

4 thoughts on “Fraserburg – Fantastic Fossils

  1. Paul Louw says:

    The Karoo is fascinating on many levels as is illustrated by photos of palaeontological remains of ancient creatures as well as cultural historical as reflected by i.a. corbelled houses. My father was born in Sutherland and became a famous Afrikaans poet. I therefore also have an affinity for the open spaces and history of this great place.

  2. Pingback: Forgotten Highway of the South African Hinterland - Karoo Space

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