|The Geology of Table Mountain
hundred million years ago, beneath deep waters, sediments and ocean deposits
began to form a continental shelf made of shale. Hot Magma from within the
earth's core intruded into this shale around 600 million years ago, and cooled
to form hard granite. This very strong igneous rock gave the shale a tough
Underwater, the shales were eroded, but from 450 million years ago, sediments
from rivers created layers of sandstone on top of the granite and shale, known
today as 'the Cape Supergroup'. Around 300 million years ago ice sheets
flattened the layers of sandstone and, today, you can find deposits made by
glaciers at Maclear's Beacon, the summit of Table Mountain (1086m). At this
time Africa was at the heart of Pangea - a vast supercontinent - and it was
located much further south than modern Africa.
One hundred and sixty-five million years ago, great shifts in the earth's
tectonic plates led to the splitting of Pangea into two parts. The southern
continent - Gondwanaland - also began to break up, and by 100 million years ago
Australia and Antarctica (including India) had broken away from Africa - which
remained more or less stationary.
The shifts in the earth's plates created many fold mountains - including the
Hottentot-Holland range in the Cape Winelands. But the hard granite base of
Table Mountain resisted folding and deflected the forces downwards. This
produced uplift in a geological process known as istotacy, or 'emerging relief'
and Table Mountain began to rise above sea level. This process probably started
about 280 million years ago, and continues to the present day, making Table
Mountain one of the oldest mountains in the world (it is six times older than
As Table Mountain rises, so it is constantly eroded by the onslaught of high
winds, rain and fire. The sandstone superstructure is protected from the rough
seas by it's granite base (clearly visible along the coastline at Camps Bay and
beyond Simon's Town). But its coarse sandstone heights have been worn by the
other elements into strange and fantastic shapes, giving the mountain its
extraordinary gnarled and craggy appearance. The sheer front face, however, was
caused by the action of waves - it is a giant cliff face.
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