Unveiling the Ancient Architects: World’s Oldest Inhabited Termite Mounds Found in South Africa

In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists have unearthed the world’s oldest known active termite mounds. These remarkable structures, occupied for tens of thousands of years, provide insights into prehistoric life and carbon sequestration.

The Namaqualand Mounds:

  • The termite mounds were discovered along the banks of the Buffels River in Namaqualand, a region along South Africa’s west coast.
  • These ancient “little hills,” called “heuweltjies” in Afrikaans, are home to southern harvester termites (Microhodotermes viator).

Termite mounds in Namaqualand

Carbon Sequestration and Termites:

  • Termites collect pieces of wood and organic materials, which accumulate over time, forming a carbon-rich reservoir.
  • Radiocarbon dating reveals that some of these mounds date back as far as 34,000 years.
  • The intricate processes within these mounds lock away atmospheric carbon dioxide, contributing to long-term carbon storage.

Understanding the Interaction:

  • Researchers analyze how groundwater, soil, and atmospheric carbon interact within these mounds.
  • Termites disturb the soil, allowing water infiltration.
  • Microbes convert stored carbon into calcium carbonate.
  • Chemical reactions during heavy rains sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide.

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