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Sterkfontein Caves Maropeng

Maropeng & Cradle of Humankind
We continued our tour of the Johannesburg area’s fantastic sites today on a more cultural note. The Maropeng Centre, just an hour from the city, is a superb museum of the Earth’s progress over 4.5 billion years. It is from areas like this, with fifteen archaeological sites, known as The Cradle of Humankind, that the original humans are believed to have developed and walked out of Africa to eventually populate the world. Apparently, the exodus began about 2 million years ago, but the real emigrants left only 200,000 years ago! There may have been only a few hundred but they have multiplied into billions. The extensive hominid (human and pre-human) fossils found nearby are on display together with the very latest skeleton finds which had gone on display for the first time the day before.

The museum is crammed full of superbly presented information, models and interactive exhibits telling the human story. From walking upright, diet changes, brain growth, tools, control of fire and language to communities and creativity, it is absolutely spellbinding. Among many other things we learned was that Earth has been through five different extinctions of life and that we are thought to be in the midst of the sixth – caused by us! It was astonishing and we wished we could have taken longer. It is worthy of a day trip on its own!

We found the building, called the Tumulus, totally amazing too. As we approached the entrance we passed the excavation of a Stone Age site. This is typical of the sites our (very) early ancestors came to for the local rocks to make their ingenious tools, up to a million years ago. From the front, it resembles a huge burial mound, complete with a vast, domed, grass covered roof. It is brilliantly designed so that as we emerged at the back we saw a completely different silver glass and futuristic looking structure. This is very clever, cutting edge environmental architecture and we thought it was awesome.
Sterkfontein Caves
The Centre is practically next door to the stunning Sterkfontein Caves, and they have to be explored together! The exciting journey down into the caves turned out to be a hard hat, descending, climbing and in parts crouching journey deep underground. But with a great guide, lots of steps and boardwalks it is all perfectly do-able, fun and well worth the effort. The descent finishes at the edge of a still, eerie underground lake, which has still to be explored. Our favourite among the fantastic rock formations was the huge stalactite shaped like an elephant’s head, located in the appropriately named Elephant Cave, which towers over the boardwalk. This amazing underground system is where some of the most complete fossil skeletons were found, dating back more than 4 million years.

With over 1000 hominid fossils discovered (so far) in the area, this unique site has revealed the richest collection of human remains in the world, covering several million years. Even if you are not an archaeologist, and we aren’t, this is fascinating stuff!
All of humanity shares an African heritage, so if you want to know who you are and where you came from, this is the place to find out.
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