Going back in time with a library made of stone


Thank you for 365 stories that captured the heart, tenacity and generosity of the South African spirit. Every day for the last year, you shared your stories with us and transfixed the nation. Keep checking back at 4:14 – we have exciting news coming soon. This is your Beautiful News.

Tony Ferrar can take you back in time. The Barberton resident is the guardian of a 37-kilometre-long library of stone that tells stories from over 3 billion years ago. Ferrar guides visitors along a trail of rocks that were found in the Komati River Valley in the 1960s, providing proof of life on earth a billion years earlier than previous research showed. The discovery led to the area becoming a haven of learning for geologists and attracted Ferrar, a wildlife ecologist, 15 years ago. “When I came here and started to understand rocks, I never would have believed that I could see with the naked eye evidence of the earliest forms of life,” he says. Wanting to share this experience, Ferrar is making the rocky road accessible to the rest of the country.

Much of Barberton’s treasures lay undiscovered until sand blasting from newly developed roads between Mpumalanga and Swaziland exposed numerous areas of geological significance. Since then, the Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail has been established. It includes 11 geosites supplemented with plaques explaining their geology, history and culture. Ferrar’s career has always had a strong focus on ecotourism development throughout southern Africa. He is currently working toward having the site included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, which will attract more people to the place and enable the town to better preserve the location.

Through boulders striped with black lines, piles of varicoloured stones or white, sandy rocks dotting the trail, environmentalists like Ferrar can understand a lot more about the earth, the sea, and life before our time. Nothing makes him happier than being able to share that. “Having the opportunity to tell its story in ways that ordinary people can understand and get excited about is a gift. It’s been a wonderful journey,” he says. For Ferrar and the rocks that surround him, this is just the beginning.