Maropeng - it all starts here

2012-09-17 11:33
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Photos: Maropeng - Time capsule into the past

Maropeng, the visitors centre at the Cradle of Humankind - just 45-minutes drive from central Johannesburg - is a fountain of anthropological knowledge.

The discovery of Australopithecus sediba and plans to broadcast the unearthing of its remaining fossils live from a studio lab at Maropeng - only serve to cement this special places status as a time capsule into the past.

Professor Lee Berger, credited with discovering the oldest intact fossil Australopithecus sediba, has always dreamed of sharing the excitement of new fossil discoveries with the public. Thanks to collaborations with the Gauteng Tourism Authority and National Geographic it will soon become a reality. 

A planned studio-lab for Maropeng, the visitors centre at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, will allow us to see the unearthing of the remaining fossils of this magnificent discovery - live - as it is streamed across the Internet to a select museums across the world - "and visitors to these museums will have the ability to interact with the scientists, and possibly even operate robotic cameras in the lab."

Listening to the Professor Berger talk about the foresight the South African government had in preserving the Sterkfontein Caves and the surrounding 47 000 hectares of land is goose-bump stuff, as it drills home that Africa truly is the Mother Continent. Getting a glimpse of the technological magic that he and his scientific kind perform would probably do exactly the same. For all of South Africa’s apparent shortcomings, as a country we are very much at the forefront of anthropological discoveries that shape global, that’s right global, scientific information.

As a time-capsule into the development of the earth and man, a visit to Maropeng is something all South Africans should take the time out to do, a mere 45-minute drive from central Johannesburg. Said to mean place where our ancestral umbilical cords has been buried in seSotho, Maropeng Visitors Centre is a fountain of knowledge and could possibly be one of the best ways to celebrate Heritage Day on 24 September 2012.



"This is like a time machine. We're gonna go back and look at their world. It is an adventure that we're right at the front pages of. And it's kind of like reading the greatest novel ever written, the human story. It's an incredible adventure that we're going to see the end to," Professor Lee Berger said.

This particular adventure all began with a nine-year-old boy, Professor Berger's son, discovering another nine-year-old boy - whose remains are said to be between 1.977 and 1.98-million years old. According to Professor Berger there are a total of six Australopithecus sediba specimens that have been found at the site known as Malapa - meaning homestead in Sesotho. This special fossil-bearing cave is located about 15-km northeast of the Sterkfontein Caves.

The left side of the jaw of Karabo [the type specimen of Australopithecus sediba] along with fibula, ribs, and what appears to be a complete femur, post-cranial bones, parts of the thorax, vertebrae and possibly hands and feet  are is still inside 1m x 80cm x 70cm of rock and what will be the focus of this new project. They discovered this thanks to Dr Berger’s wife, Jackie Smilg a radiologist who is conducting her PhD on the CT scanning of fossil material embedded in rock.

“We took the rock to the Charlotte Maxege Hospital and scanned it in a state-of-the-art CT scanner and were able to peer inside. This in itself is a brand new area of science. We are going to be broadcasting the fossil excavations live; the lab needs to be a studio. That’s where National Geographic comes in – they’re going to assist us in designing this remarkable lab-studio.

"Imagine a state-of-the-art lab that is hyper-clean, there are preparation tables, state-of-the-art microscopic cameras, and audio-visual equipment recording the excavation from different angles. This type of scientific lab is what we would have built anyway, but now we’re allowing the world to eavesdrop on what we’re doing.

Cradle of Human Kind fast facts
-    Maropeng is the official visitor centre for the Cradle of Humankind, and is located 45 minutes’ drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria

-    Facilities include an award-winning visitor centre, a 24-bedroom 4-star hotel, conference facilities for up to 500 delegates, an outdoor amphitheatre for up to 10000 people, budget accommodation at the Hominid House, and four restaurants: the Maropeng Hotel Restaurant, the Market Place Restaurant, the Tumulus Restaurant and the Sterkfontein Caves Restaurant.

-    The Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage Site, declared because of its contribution to our understanding of the history of humanity. More than 1000 hominid fossils have been found here in the 47 000
hectares area – more than at any other place on Earth.

 - Maropeng was created through a public-private partnership between the Gauteng government, the University of the Witwatersrand and private business.

- South Africa has yielded fossils of some of the earliest known dinosaurs, at least 200-million years old.

- Some of the oldest rock art in the world has been discovered in Southern Africa.



Ever visited the Cradle of Humankind, what was your experience like?

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