I recently visited Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site as part of the Fair Trade Tourism 10-year Anniversary Celebrations. I had only a vague idea about what the centre was about, and have always perceived it to be a destination for kiddies. To be honest with you, kiddie stuff does not amuse me much (and kids themselves even less so)… But I was very positively surprised! Even though the exhibition has a distinct educational feel to it, I left with a sense of awe (and you have got to be seriously old-at-heart not to enjoy the cool boat ride through the tunnels of fire and ice!).
The Tumulus building blends into the surrounding landscape as you approach the centre; but look at it from the other side and you see a futuristic spaceship. In the same way, the exhibition is about our origins; but leaves you with questions about our future.
Mankind developed in Africa, and hominid fossils as old as 3.5 million years have been found in the area surrounding Maropeng. The name Cradle of Humankind is not strictly true; a mindboggling 7 million year old hominid fossil has been found in central Africa. Nevertheless, the Cradle of Humankind is one of the riches fossil areas in the world. It was also here in Africa that we developed into “modern humans” around 200,000 years ago, with an ability to think and create (which is what separate us from other living beings). I have written about this important step in our evolution here.
It is fascinating to see the 14-billion year history of the Universe, and the 4.6-million year that Earth has existed set into perspective. If the history of Earth was reduced to 24 hours, us humans would only have been here for 20 seconds or so. In that time, we have developed into thinking, creative beings that can even travel to space. Despite our intelligence as a species, we have also already managed to destroy large parts of this amazing planet. The final part of the exhibition focuses on the issue of sustainability; what have we already destroyed, what is left and how are we going to conserve it?
I am going to leave you with the same lines that I left Maropeng pondering:
While we can propel ourselves into space, millions of people starve to death each year, are illiterate and have no access to basic healthcare or clean water. Now that we can do anything, what will we do?