Two billion years ago, when Earth was still a barren wasteland inhabited by algae and bacteria under

an atmosphere filled with methane and carbon dioxide,
one of the largest meteorites hit the area that is now know as the Vredefort Dome. This created the greatest impact crater on the planet – to this day. Below is
an artist’s realistic impression of SA 2 billion years ago, when the meteor hit - with indications of where modern towns are now
The natural landscape around
Vredefort still portrays the ring
structures resulting from the impact.
One can clearly see half the impact
crater to the west of Vredefort
Today the site
of an extinct
Today: An easy escape from the city
The air we breathe
Stromatolites such as these (below) are stubby pillars
that formed as microbes slowly migrate upwards in the
ocean. These were responsible for much of the oxygen
production on Earth, which enabled complicated life to
Today the Vredefort Dome area (left), which stradles three provincial
boundaries, has become a popular breakaway spot for urbanites from
Gauteng. It is a mere hour’s drive from Johannesburg.
There are many quaint villages to explore - Parys and Vredefort among
them - as well as whitewater rafting on the Vaal River, restaurants, gift
shops and cosy bars.
Today the bucolic countryside (right) belies the turbulent formation of
this popular spot, when the Earth literally melted away. There are
many rock formations in the area that tell the story of a violent past
Visitors’ Centre
A Visitors’ Centre near the
town of Vredefort has
exhibitions offering more
explanations and insights
What Earth was
like back then
The map of Earth did not
look anything like today.
The continents were still
being formed, as shown
on the right. Africa was
already identifiable
Africa at the time
of the impact
The only life on Earth
were single-cell
organisms (right) that
started to produce oxygen
in great quantities. The air
was filled with methane
and carbon dioxide
Impact craters
around the
Chicxulub, Mexico
65 million years old
Roter Kamm, Namibia
5 million years old
Tswaing, Pretoria
200 000 years old
Sudbury, Canada
1.8 billion years old
ANDRE GOUWS AND HANLIE MALAN, Graphics24 Sources:, National Research Foundation, Unesco World Heritage Foundation
To make a crater 300km wide, the
meteorite must have been about 10km
across (as big as a mountain) and
travelling at more than 10km per second
(36 000km/h!).
The Vredefort Dome is only the central
part of the impact crater. It is called a
dome because the rock layers were bent
into the shape of an upside-down bowl
90km across by the impact