The first stratigraphic column in South Africa, from Hondius (1652), and its modern correlatives

  • Sharad Master University of the Witwatersrand
Keywords: Haarlem shipwreck, 1647, Table Bay, water well, Pleistocene-Holocene sediments, History of Geology


In 1647 the Dutch ship Haarlem, en route from Batavia to the Netherlands Republic, was wrecked in Table Bay. The survivors were encamped over the next year before they were rescued in a fort they constructed called Sandenburgh. Their successful sojourn in the Cape led directly to the establishment of the Dutch colony there in 1652. They survived by living on hunted cormorants and penguins, bartered cattle and sheep, and by drinking fresh water obtained from a well which they sank to a depth of 20 m. The sequence of sediments encountered in the well was recorded by Jodocus Hondius III, grandson of the famous mapmaker, in a book published in 1652, based on accounts given to him by the sailors from the Haarlem. A comparison of the stratigraphy recorded in the well (five sedimentary units) with the Pleistocene and Holocene stratigraphy known from modern studies of these coastal sediments, shows a very good correspondence in terms of lithologies and thicknesses, and attests to the veracity of the sources that provided Hondius with his information. This singular case of a detailed stratigraphic column is interesting in the light it throws on the rudimentary understanding of rock types, stratigraphy and hydrology by Dutch sailors in the mid-17th century, at the beginnings of South African colonial history, more than a decade before the study of stratigraphy was initiated by the work of Steno. The measurements recorded in the description of the well are some of the earliest quantitative data recorded in the history of South African science.


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