Gauteng, South Africa, Things to Do

The Cradle of Humankind: back to our roots…or fossils

Share this Article/Page

Cradle of Humankind

Have you ever wondered if the Dinosaurs lived with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Have you ever seen a fossil in real-life? Have you ever secretly wanted to explore the Indiana Jones side of your personality?

Well, there is only one place where you can have all your questions answered and have your dreams realised – The Cradle of Humankind.

One of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, the Cradle of Humankind is widely recognised as the birthplace of mankind. It is a place of (ongoing) scientific discovery into existence, including 13 excavated sites identified within the area.

At the Cradle of Humankind you can discover how the earth has survived 5 major extinctions, and find out why some scientists say that we are living in the midst of what could be the 6th major extinction – this one, not from a meteor or an asteroid hurtling toward earth, but self-inflicted, by us not taking care.

Through the study of fossils, scientists are able to surmise facts about life long before mankind existed and plot a pathway to what we know today in planning for a tomorrow. This has led to some incredible discoveries in recent times, especially at the Sterkfontein Caves, home to the oldest and most continuous paleontological dig in the world, the place where the famous “Mrs Ples”, the famous pre-human skull, was discovered as well as an almost complete hominid skeleton called “Little Foot”.  The Cradle of Humankind has become a major national and international tourist destination with more than 380 attractions, 175 places to stay, 113 restaurants, and 44 conference venues.

The official visitor centre for Cradle of Humankind and Sterkfontein Caves, is Maropeng (meaning ‘returning to place of origin’ in Setswana), housing a world-class exhibition focussed on the development of humans over the past few million years. Upon arrival, you are greeted by a massive burial mound called Tumulus – the entrance to learning the secrets of mankind’s ancestry.

See what it looks like on an actual archaeological excavation as you find your way to the Tumulus building. The team of scientists from the University of Witwatersrand started excavation at the “Stone Age” site in October 2005 and have unearthed wonderful finds there.  Early stone tools like cleavers and hand axes found there belong to the Acheulean Period and it is assumed that early humans came to this (Maropeng) area to use local rocks for tool-making.

Learn more about the growth of the jaw and diet, and how incredibly it has changed over time. See the difference between the size of a modern-day human’s brain and that of “Mrs Ples” (Australopithecus), and find out about how early man developed the ability to harness and use fire. And these are only a few of the amazing exhibits at the centre.

Take an underground boat ride that starts in the present and takes you on a trip back in time through the various stages of creation of the earth, when the world was submerged in water and beyond the formation of earth’s crust and the shifting of tectonic plates. Finally, you are transported to the very beginning when the earth was a fiery ball of molten rock.

At the beginning of the year (because January was a “trial month”), it is a good idea to gain some perspective and see how life was in the very beginning. Visit Maropeng, go back to the origin of man. It is only when we see how far we’ve come that we can start to dream of a future beyond our wildest expectations…that is, if we take care of what we have now.