The impact of large extraterrestrial bolides (asteroids and
comets) with Earth is an ever-present danger that humanity has only
recently begun to recognise. Of the 175 impact craters found thus
far on Earth, three giants stand out Chicxulub in Mexico, Sudbury
in Canada, and the Vredefort Impact Structure in South Africa. Each
of these impact events catastrophically altered the global
environment and was strong enough to drastically change life on our
planet. The Vredefort Structure is the oldest and largest of these
three giants and at about 300 km diameter it is nearly twice the
size of the Chicxulub crater that was formed by an impact that
wiped out approximately 75% of all known life on Earth 65 million
years ago. In the more than 2000 million years since its formation,
water, wind and ice have slowly eroded away the original Vredefort
crater, exposing its roots in a series of spectacular rocks. The
outcroppings in the region around the towns of Vredefort and Parys,
known as the Vredefort Dome, show the scars of the cataclysmic
forces that accompanied the impact event. The rocks, ripped from
the depths of the crust by the impact, also tell a far older story
that stretches back to more than 3500 million years ago, when the
first continents formed on the primitive Earth, and to the time
when fabulous gold deposits accumulated on the margins of the
ancient Witwatersrand sea. The Vredefort Structure is truly one of
the geological wonders of the world. While the rocks of the
Vredefort Dome, and the story they have to tell, lie at the heart
of this book, it is by no means the full story. The Dome is an area
of spectacular scenic beauty and biodiversity, dominated by 40
kilometre-wide crescent of hills incised by the Vaal River and its
tributaries. This area has also been home to humans for many
thousands of years. Together, the rich geological, biological and
archaeological heritage has led to the recognition of the most
scenic part of the Vredefort Dome as a World Heritage Site.
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