Prehistoric Discovery on One of Lake Kariba's Many Islands

July 1969 – Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

One of the most fascinating animals ever found on a Kariba island (which just happened to be in the Bumi area!) was discovered by accident, in July 1969, by a Kariba resident whilst he was out fishing. He was so enthralled that he reported the discovery to authorities, who in turn sent a team to investigate. There they found the quite remarkable skeletal remains of Zimbabwe’s first ever dinosaur – the Jurassic Vulcanodon karibensis.

Drawing of Vulcanodon

Fossilized remains, photo provided by African Eye

The fossil remains of what was later to become known as Vulcanodon karibensis was found by Alec Gibson, on Island 126/7 (also now known as ‘Dinosaur Island’). This dinosaur was estimated to have died 180 million years earlier. With a long neck and tail, it was about 6,5 metres from nose to tail, and at full height it likely stood about 4 metres tall. The remains of Vulcanodon were found in sandstone deposits between two flows of lava basalt, dating it to be around the Triassic-Jurassic cusp. Dinosaurs are said to have died out at the end of the Cretaceous period, some 65 million years ago.

Once thought to provide the ‘missing link’ between two important groups of dinosaurs, the Prosauropods and Sauropods, modern thinking now is that Valcanodon came to an evolutionary dead-end, rather than as a link.

Other interesting discoveries in the Kariba area include a tooth from Thecodontian (a carnivore which preceded later dinosaurs), and several teeth from crocodilians or prosauropod dinosaurs. Lungfish, which still exist in the Zambezi Valley, but evolved over 400 million years ago, have left dental plates as evidence of their early presence here too.

In addition to Vulcanodon, four other types of dinosaur have been found in the Triassic and Jurassic rock strata of Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valleys.



A small scavenging coelurosaurian found in 1963 in southern Zimbabwe, and then later discovered in the Zambezi Valley. The Coelophysis rhodesiensis lived on the edge of a huge barren desert which existed in Southern Africa over 200 million years ago.



Zimbabwe’s most common dinosaur. The Massospondylus usually walked on all fours, but occasionally stood up on hind legs, was three to five metres long, and lived in the late Triassic period. Remains of these have been found in the Bumi area.



A huge Jurassic Carnosaur and bipedal carnivore, probably preying upon large sauropods, its large skull equipped with dozens of sharp, serrated teeth. Their massive footprints, can still be found preserved in rock in some parts of the Zambezi Valley.



Thought to be the largest and heaviest dinosaur ever on Earth, the Brachiosaurus existed from the Jurassic period into the Cretaceous times, when dinosaurs became extinct. Remains of this species were discovered in 1965 below Lake Kariba in the lower Zambezi Valley.

And finally, one of the most iconic Kariba sights – Petrified wood, or Dadoxylon – a fairly common fossil in the red Triassic sand sediments of the Kariba lake shore. Also preserved in the shales and mudstones of the early Triassic strata are the fronds and imprints of ferns of the Dicroidium genus. Their rare seedpods are named after their discovery location as Karibacarpon.

The Lake Kariba area is full of stories on its prehistoric past, with surely more to be found as the years go by.