Shortly before she died at the age of 94, my very active mother exclaimed to me that life was far too short for all the things that there were to learn and discover. I realised something of what she felt during my visit to Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind. It opened all sorts of fascinating areas for potential study and research.
Maropeng means “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana. The Visitor Centre focuses on these origins – ‘humankinds origins and its continuing journey into the future, the four elements and the formation of the earth and all its living creatures.’ As you go through you embark on a journey of exploration. It begins with a walk down a ramp of time marked with significant events in the history of the earth. Estimates are that the universe was formed about 14 billion years ago, the earth about 4.6 billion years ago and that life first emerged about 3.8 billion years ago. Fossils of some of the earliest known life forms on earth have been found in South Africa. This leads to the belief that ‘All of humanity shares an African heritage.’
The ramp is followed by a small boat ride back through time retracing the various stages of creation. You step out into the beginning, the Vortex – which signifies the Big Bang theory – and go right on to a remarkable and impressive audio-visual presentation on how the earth and its continents were thought to be formed. Watch India break away from the first continent and head off to Asia, into a marriage that produced the Himalayas.
From there the journey continues through The Birth of the Cradle, The Path to Humanity and the nine characteristics of What it Means to be Human. These include audio-visual displays, interactive zones, graphic panels and life-like recreations. It is a remarkable, state-of-the-art and world-class exhibition. I was so proud of South Africa! It would be quite possible to spend hours there happily absorbed in the presentations, information, and avenues of research.
The journey ends with an Original Fossil Display of items on loan from other scientific and educational institutions. It is quite something to look at skulls over 2.5 million years old – some of them of fearsome looking animals – and a fossil of a very small snake forever attached like a ridge to a piece of stone. ‘There are 15 major fossil sites within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Each one has yielded fossils ranging from ancient monkeys and sabre-toothed cats to hominids’.
After the exertions of our journey over billions of years we needed sustenance, and retired upstairs to a large and impressive restaurant for lunch. Being midweek, with only a small conference in progress the menu was limited but very tasty. The weather was not conducive to sitting outside, but we still had a good view through the large glass doors and windows. Refreshed and renewed we made our way out and stopped to look in at the smaller fast food outlet and the Maropeng Shop. This was very impressive with a large range of items, seemingly of very good quality, from clothing to ceramics, craftware to novelties.
I would recommend this as a ‘Must Visit’ for everyone – including families and school groups. It will stimulate much discussion and debate. The website is worth a visit.
- Location: On the D400, about 1 hour from Johannesburg
- Open: Daily 09h00 – 17h00
- Cost: Car R10; Adults R105; Children [4-14years] R60; Pensioners/Students R75
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