Messum Crater, Namibia

429Messum Crater is not a meteorite or asteroid impact crater at all.
It is rather part of an igneous ring complex and the once active volcano inside / below / above would have been the source of most of the basalts of the surrounding Goboboseb mountains, stretching from near Cape Cross to the old Brandberg West mine near the Ugab river.
Messum is essentially comparable to the Ngorongoro caldera.The centre part of Messum ‘volcano’ has collapsed like a pie in a big 18km diameter pie-dish; “the bottom had simply fallen out” …  The intrusions date back to the break-up of the Gondwana supercontinent 130 million years ago.messumb* During about 1850 a British merchant ship under Captain William Messum visited Cape Cross.
Captain Messum was in search of commercial opportunities along the Namib coast and spent a few weeks exploring the hinterland, probably up to the Brandberg area. He humbly named the dry river course and the mountains after himself.
Messum’s ship had run into a little trouble in the bay of Cape Cross. He found another shipwreck there and reckoned that it would have been an American built vessel. Walking inland toward the most prominent mountain while following a dry river course, after about ten miles, he found human foot prints and decided to venture further inland. He finds a settlement of about 50 families at the foothills of the mountain which the people call “Dourissa”. This would be the Brandberg, Dâures in the Khoe languages. Presumably Messum had traveled all the way to the Hungorob ravine on the southwesterly side of Brandberg, the catchment area of the Messum river. The people he met were pastoral people with flocks of goats and sheep, thus probably Damara or even Topnaar people. Messum in his report mentions that, apart from slaughtering their animals, the people would eat the pips of the Nara melon, veld fruit and bulbs. He noticed many hides of the Oryx antelope in the huts.
Charles John Andersson, the Swedish adventurer, quotes Captain Messum’s reports extensively in his book
“The Okavango River” (1861)
NB the people that Capt. Messum had met in 1850 would have nothing to do with the rock art or with early habitation inside Messum crater
Imagemessum 2
images from “Landshapes: The Geomorphology of Namibia”
R.Swart / C.Marais
oblique aerial view from East to West

* During the years just before their epic escape into the Namib during WWII, the German geologists Dr Henno Martin and Dr Hermann Korn (“The Sheltering Desert” – “Wenn es Krieg gibt, gehn wir in die Wüste”) spent some time investigating the “Messum Igneous complex in SWA” situated to the south of the Messum river, west of the Brandberg massif. They first recognized the crater structure (1936/7) and coined the name ‘Messum Crater’. It was not actually named by Captain Messum. It is also very unlikely that Captain Messum himself was ever inside the crater.

adapted from Henno Martin (1956)

*   During the late 40’s  the young Namibian Ernst Scherz had accompanied, and assisted the French Abbé Henri Breuil  ( as field guide , scout and camp hand on several rock art excursions throughout the country. Breuil had previously studied prehistoric rock art sites at Altamira (northern Spain) and Lascaux (France). Jan Smuts got him out of war torn France during WWII. He lectured at Wits University and carried out research throughout the subcontinent.  Although the surveyor / cartographer Reinhard Maack had already discovered the Brandberg “White Lady” in the Tsisab ravine during reconnaissance work in 1918, it was Abbé Breuil who made her famous when he published his monograph in the early 1950’s.
Ernst Scherz got hooked on the subject and traveled most of Namibia for several years in the mid-1960’s in an attempt to comprehensively map and catalogue as many rock art sites as possible. He mentions and interprets several paintings in the Messum rock shelters in his subsequent publications.
* In 1968 W.E. Wendt did archaeological excavations in the Messum crater area.
Throughout the 1980’s Jürgen Richter from the Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Universität Köln, conducted further research and got engaged in labrious excavations. It appears that the most recent, late stone age layers would be dated to about 1200 years ago.

from J. Richter

Messum is regarded as among the richest stone age sites in the world to have been found in extreme arid landscape with average precipitation rates lower than 50 mm / annum. Richter lists some 50 000 stone tool artefacts / microliths that had been excavated in rock shelters in the centre of Messum crater.


Ernst Scherz interprets this as a birth scene
“Namib Nativity”
rock overhang with more than a dozen individual rock art pieces

Richter concludes his research “It has probably never been possible for people to subsist throughout the year at Messum. Prehistoric groups were able to live at the site only for short spells. They probably stayed for some weeks during or after occasional rains when some grass was available and antelope visited the area. Messum appears to be a paradigmatic case of a short term, highly specialized hunting- camp in an extremely arid ecotope.”

Today, traveling up the Messum river we noticed a great number of tsamma melon plants with ripe fruit, many lichen species, fascinating sedimentary geology in the banks of the river. Between Messum Crater and Brandberg one would count literally many thousand Welwitschia plants. On this rather hot day we counted about a dozen young Namib chameleons, all sitting as high as possible on the cones or flowers of the Welwitschia to catch a slight, cooling breeze.
A few ostrich, very few lonesome springbok and a pair of oryx antelope.Image



Post  scriptum

Movements of Dorob Male lion Xpl 77 photo Desert Lion Conservation
Movements of Dorob Male lion Xpl 77
photo Desert Lion Conservation

Above a satellite picture of movement of the famous DOROB lion’s movement between Jun 2012 and his death by trophy hunter’s bullet in September 2013.  During this 15 month period this lion had also spent time at the western foot hills of Brandberg, wandered down Messum river and been right at the northern edge of Messum Crater.

Recently elephant of the Ugab population had also walked right around Brandberg, not too far away from Messum.

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