9 Oldest Mountain Ranges in the World

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When it comes to the majesty of nature, mountains are some of the most prominent and awe-inspiring natural formations. Mountains are home to diverse wildlife, flora, and fauna, and they are often the source of springs and rivers that support life from the highest peaks down to the lowest valleys. In addition to the numerous resources and minerals that mountains provide, they also give a glimpse into the age of a geographic area.

Geologists hold the key to determining the age of a mountain. By studying the strata of sediment and rock formation, they can compare their findings to the geologic time scale and produce data about the absolute dating, or specific time, in which the rocks and mountain range was formed. Thanks to their findings, we now know the 9 oldest mountain ranges in the world.

9. Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachians, 1.2 Billion Years Old (BYO)

Country and Origin:  USA, Appalachias
Highest Peak: Mount Mitchell, 6, 684 feet
Average Elevation: 2000-4000 feet
Approximate Area: 5 to 65 miles wide

Blue Ridge Mountainsphoto source: Wikimedia

Stretching from Pennsylvania down through Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and the outer state borders of South Carolina and Georgia, the Blue Ridge Mountains may not be the oldest mountains, but they are still ancient at 1.2 billion years old. The highest peak is Mount Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet. The Blue Ridge Mountains are a major source of timber, in addition to mineral extractions. The mystic aura and isolated woods have led to the creation of a distinct folk and bluegrass music for which the Appalachias are known.


8. Mount Pilanesberg in the Witwatersrand Range, 1.2 BYO

Country and Origin:  South Africa, Northwest Province
Highest Peak: 5,535 feet
Average Elevation: N/A
Approximate Area: 24 km

Mount Pilanesbergphoto source: Wikimedia

Pilanesberg is actually not a mountain range, but a single mountain. An ancient and extinct volcano, it’s estimated that the last eruption occurred 1,200 million years ago. In addition to being one of the oldest mountain formations, Pilanesberg is also one of the largest volcanic structures. The volcanic composition makes Pilanesberg a source of rare minerals, and platinum mines are situated at the base of the crater formation next to the mountain. Mount Pilanesberg is a popular destination for mountain climbing and hiking, and it is a protected section of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.


7. St. Francois Mountains, 1.485 BYO

Country and Origin:  USA, Missouri
Highest Peak:Taum Sauk Mountain, 1,772 feet
Average Elevation: 1,136 feet
Approximate Area: 7,028 acres

St. Francois Mountainsphoto source: Wikimedia

Central to the Lead Belt, the St. Francois Mountains are located in southeastern Missouri. Formed by volcanic activity, the mountains are rich with deposits of lead, silver, cobalt, and nickel among others. Lead is the most abundant mineral in the mountains, and the region is responsible for an approximated 90 percent of the lead production in the United States.


6. Black Hills, 1.8 BYO

Country and Origin:  USA, South Dakota and Wyoming
Highest Peak: Black Elk Peak, 7,242 feet
Average Elevation: 4,000-7,000 feet
Approximate Area: 5,000 square miles

Black Hills, 1.8 BYOphoto source: Wikipedia

The famous Black Hills are the oldest mountain range in North America. Located primarily in western South Dakota but also edging into north-eastern Wyoming, the Black Hills were named for the dark hue of the pine trees, which made the mountain range appear black from a distance. The Black Hills region was home to many Native American tribes, including the Cheyenne, the Lakota, and the Sioux. The discovery of gold in the region led to a gold rush in the area in late 1800s. In the Southern Hills of the Black Hills is the location of the iconic Mount Rushmore.


5. Guiana Highlands, 2 BYO

Country and Origin:  Northeastern South America
Highest Peak: Pico de Neblina, 9,823 feet
Average Elevation: 2600-4900 feet
Approximate Area: 1200 miles long, 200-600 miles wide

Guiana Highlands, 2 BYOphoto source: Wikipedia

Distinguished by tepui, or mountain plateaus, the Guiana Highlands stretch across the boundaries of Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil, and part of Colombia. The vegetation in the region is predominantly tropical rainforest, and the mountains themselves are a rich source of gold and diamonds. In addition to their jutting elegance and ancient age of 2 billion years, the Guiana Highlands also boast having the Angel Falls, the highest waterfalls in the world.


4. Magaliesberg, 2.4 BYO

Country and Origin:  South Africa, Northwest Province
Highest Peak: Nooitgedacht, 1852 meters
Average Elevation: 300 meters
Approximate Area: 120 km

Magaliesberg, 2.4 BYOphoto source: Wikipedia

This ancient mountain range is also the site to where we can trace some of the earliest human inhabitants. The region around the Magaliesberg includes the Sterkfontein Caves, which are in the area known as the Cradle of Humankind. These caves, which lie to the south of the main range by 25 km, have given us the oldest fossils of the hominin species. Today, the Magaliesberg and surrounding region are protected as a World Heritage Site. Lush flora and fauna are abundant in the area. Just be careful if you visit—there are also baboon troops and numerous poisonous snakes that inhabit the mountains.


3. Waterberg Mountains, 2.7 BYO

Country and Origin:  South Africa, Limpopo Province
Highest Peak: Geelhoutkop, 6,000 feet
Average Elevation: 600 meters
Approximate Area: 14,500 sq km

Waterberg Mountains, 2.7 BYO photo source: Wikipedia

South Africa is home to multiple ancient mountain ranges, and some of the oldest of these are the Waterberg mountains. Archeological findings suggest that as far back as three million years ago, Waterberg may have been home to the first human ancestors. Findings in this area date back to the Stone Age and include the Bushmen Lapalala cave paintings, which depict antelope and rhinoceros that the Bushmen would have hunted as game.


2. Hamersley Range, 3.4 BYO

Country and Origin:  Western Australia, Pilbara Region
Highest Peak: Mount Meharry, 4,098 feet
Average Elevation: 450-550 m
Approximate Area: 160 miles

Hamersley Range, 3.4 BYO photo source: Wikimedia

With twenty of the highest peaks in Western Australia, the Hamersley Range features gorges with sheer and colorful rock faces that display a myriad of colors—green, blue, and pink—that shift with the sunlight. At the foot of these gorges and throughout the mountains are pools of clear water, and lush vegetation. Karijini National Park, one of the largest national parks in Australia, is within the Hamersley Range. In addition to being a haven for wildlife and beautiful natural landmarks, the Hamersley Range also plays an important role in the economy. Over 100 million tonnes of iron ore are extracted annually from the Hamersley Range, which accounts for an estimated 90 percent of Australia’s iron ore exports.


1. Makhonjwa Mountains in the Barberton Greenstone Belt, 3.5 BYO

Country and Origin:  South Africa and Swaziland
Highest Peak: 5,900 feet
Average Elevation: 2,000-5,900 feet
Approximate Area: 120 by 60 km

Makhonjwa Mountainsphoto source: Wikipedia

Officially the oldest mountain range in the world, the Makhonjwa Mountains are commonly called the “Genesis of Life.” The geography of the mountains varies from rocky hills, to lush grasslands, and deeply wooded valleys.

About 80 percent of the mountains are in South Africa with the remaining portion sprawling into Swaziland. The mountains are situated in an area known as the Barberton Greenstone Belt, so named after the discovery of gold in the area by the George Barber and his cousins that led to a gold rush in the late nineteenth century.

It was not until the 1960s that researchers began to show interest in the age of the mountains themselves. Two brothers, Morris and Richard Viljoen, discovered traces of Archaean lava, distinctive to the Komati river valley. This discovery also led to the highest ever recorded temperature for volcanic rocks at 1650 degrees Celsius. The Archaean sequences are remarkably well-preserved and give a glimpse into the oceanic and continental crust of ancient Earth. Fossils of some of the earliest life forms are embedded in the Makhonjwa Mountains, and the area shows evidence of the earliest recorded meteorite impact.

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