People have been living at Tswaing crater for more than 100,000 years but only in 1990 it was proved that this is impact crater.


Some 30 – 50 m large meteoroid (e.g. object which is larger than meteorite but smaller than an asteroid) hit the savanna near the present-day Pretoria some 220 000 years ago. There are ongoing discussions about the age of crater – some researchers consider that its age might exceed 300 000 years.

Meteoroid fell with a speed of 20 – 30 km per second and when it hit the 2.06 billion years old granite of Bushweld complex, it’s kinetic energy turned into an explosion. The energy of this blast was equivalent to 20 – 40 megatons of TNT – like 1000 atomic bombs of Hiroshima type.

Area of some 1000 km² was turned into a desert. It has been calculated that such an impact could create extreme wind with a speed over 1000 km/s and felling trees up to 14 – 19 km far away. Burn damage could spread up to 10 km far.

It is well possible that early humans were living in this area and were exposed to this catastrophe.

Meteoroid itself most likely was chondrite, e.g. it consisted of stone. No parts of it have been found – it turned into vapor during the impact.

Tswaing crater with the saline lake in it, South Africa
Tswaing crater with the saline lake in it / NJR ZA, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Size of crater

Rather soon the freshly created crater cooled down, vegetation returned. Since its creation, the rims of crater eroded and became less steep. There are not that many proofs of impact left, just large pieces of granite are thrown up to hundreds of meters from the crater rim.

Rims of the crater today rise 60 m above the surroundings. The diameter of the crater is 1,130 m, current depth below the rims is up to 119 m.

Bed of crater is covered with 90 m thick sediments. Thus the total depth of the crater is some 180 m if counted from the crater rims or approximately 120 m below the surroundings.

Salt lake

Name of the crater in the local Tswana language means "Place of Salt". Also, Europeans named it after the lake in it – Saltpan.

This small lake at the bottom of the crater has a diameter of some 300 m, it is less than 3 m deep. Lake has no outlets or inlets, it is fed by rainwater and groundwater. Over the time carbonate and sodium chloride salts have accumulated and Tswaing Lake is hypersaline, with a pH around 10.

This lake is a subject of several local legends, including a legend about monstrous watersnake. In reality, only algae and one species of salt-tolerant plants survive in this salty water.

Lake deposits have recorded the climate history of the last 190 000 years – research of this valuable scientific asset continues.


Man-made stone tools next to this lake are at least 100,000 years old – people back then most likely were hunting here. Much later local Tswana and Sotho people collected the salt from this lake. They did it for many centuries, at least since 1200 AD.

Initiative was taken over by Europeans and in 1912 – 1956 a company "SA Alkali Ltd." pumped the brine from the floor of the crater as a raw material for obtaining salt and soda.

Meanwhile a scientific discussion was ongoing between those who considered that this is volcanic crater (Wagner, 1922) and those who believed that this is impact crater (Rohleder, 1933). Only the data from boreholes in 1989 – 1990 proved the impact origin of Tswaing crater. In these times a dam was built in the lake for drilling equipment.

Today Tswaing crater is a beloved tourist destination. In 1996 here opened a museum – the third museum next to impact crater after Meteor Crater Visitor Centre next to Barringer crater in Arizona, United States and Kaali crater museum in Estonia. The first geopark in Africa has been established here as well.

Tswaing crater is included in the following list:

10 world's most impressive impact craters
10 world’s most impressive impact craters
Tswaing Crater on the map
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Coordinates, tourist reception: 25.4157 S 28.1008 E
Coordinates, crater: 25.4086 S 28.0827 E
Categories: Impact craters, Lakes and streams
Values: Geology
Rating: 4 out of 10 stars
Where is located? Africa, South Africa, Gauteng province, some 40 km north from Pretoria
Alternate names: Pretoria Saltpan crater, Soutpankrater (in Afrikaans), Zoutpan
Diameter: 1,130 m
Depth: 119 m
Age: ˜ 220,000 ± 52,000 years

Landmarks of South Africa

Blyde River Canyon, South Africa
Blyde River Canyon / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
South Africa is extremely rich with unusual archaeological and natural monuments.

Geologically South Africa is interesting with its unique mineral deposits providing some of the best diamond, gold, platinum ores and other highly valuable mineral resources.

The biodiversity of South Africa is unsurpassed in many respects but also very endangered.

Impact craters

Pingualuit crater, Canada
Pingualuit crater / NASA, Wikimedia Commons, public domain
There are many pieces of solid matter flying around in the space. And VERY frequently they fall on the surface of Earth. There are estimates that every year on Earth fall 18,000 – 84,000 meteorites larger than 10 grams: e.g. one meteorite every 6 – 30 minutes.

This category includes outstanding impact craters – detectable scars on the surface of Earth left by a body coming from outer space. Category includes also meteorites – natural objects from the outer space.

Recommended books

Tswaing Meteorite Crater

Overview of the Tswaing meteorite impact crater with chapters on the crater, plants and animals, people, and the Tswaing Crater Trail.

Greater Than a Tourist- Pretoria Gauteng South Africa

Greater Than a Tourist- Pretoria Gauteng South Africa by Natasha van der Schyff offers the inside scoop on Pretoria. Most travel books tell you how to travel like a tourist. Although there is nothing wrong with that, as part of the Greater Than a Tourist series, this book will give you travel tips from someone who has lived at your next travel destination.

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