Evidence for opal phytolith preservation in the Langebaanweg ‘E’ Quarry Varswater Formation and its potential for palaeohabitat reconstruction

  • L. Rossouw Florisbad Quaternary Research, National Museum, P.O. Box 266, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa. Department of Plant Sciences, University of the Free State, P.O. Box 339, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa.
  • D. D. Stynder Cenozoic Palaeontology, Natural History Department, Iziko South African Museum, P.O. Box 61, Cape Town 8000, South Africa.
  • P. Haarhof West Coast Fossil Park, P.O. Box 42, Langebaanweg 7375, South Africa.


At the end of the Miocene epoch, C4 grasslands began to expand at the expense of tree-, shrub- and forb-dominated C3 ecosystems. While C4 grasses were spreading throughout most regions of the world, C3 grasses may have been spreading along South Africa’s southwest coast. Stable isotope analyses of hypsodont fossil ungulates from ‘E’ Quarry, a well-known Late Miocene/Early Pliocene fossil locality near the town of Langebaanweg, suggest that the local environment might have included a substantial C3 grass component. Besides this indirect evidence, little is known about the evolution, nature and importance of grass in the ‘E’ Quarry biome. As a preliminary step towards addressing these questions, we initiated a trial investigation to assess whether sediments at the site are conducive to the preservation of phytoliths, an important tool in the reconstruction of palaeohabitats. Results indicate that fossil phytoliths are sufficiently well preserved to allow a comprehensive analysis of the ‘E’ Quarry phytolith assemblage.