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Maropeng Visitor Center (Cradle of Humankind)

Overview of the Maropeng Visitor Center

Maropeng is the official visitor center for the Cradle of Humankind. Situated in the Cradle of Humankind, Maropeng means "returning to the place of origin" in Setswana. It was officially opened on 7 December 2005, by the then president Thabo Mbeki.

Maropeng is situated literally in the middle of the birthplace of humanity, where our ancestors lived more than 3 million years ago.

The Maropeng visitors center features a world-class, exciting exhibit, focusing on the development of humans and our ancestors over the past few million years.

Maropeng Visitor Center was designed by GAPP Architects and MMA (Mphethi Morejele Architects), and is based on the theme of discovery.

The building that houses the exhibition is known as the Tumulus building, and was designed to symbolize a giant burial mound or enormous buried fossil, with concrete "bones" sticking out the top. Maropeng has many diverse aspects, and the unique architecture of this building encourages the visitor to dig deeper, much like a palaeonanthropoligist would do while looking for fossils in embedded rock.

A few shops and a small restaurant are available to visitors.

Underground boat ride

A short boat adventure awaits visitors to Maropeng. The adventure through time starts in the hallway that leads to the boat, where you are taken back through the ages of humanity, and even the beginning of life.

Upon reaching the boat, the journey continues, retracing the stages of the creation of our earth, from the most recent ice-age to the time when the world was submerged in water. The boat then continues even beyond that to the formation of the earth's crust and shifting of tectonic plates.

Finally, adventures reach the beginning, when the earth was a fiery ball of molten rock. On foot now, the journey leads through a simulated black-hole.

Scientists theorize that our earth came into existence as the result of the collapse of the first star, creating a powerful black-hole with massive gravitational pull. According to the theories, the force of the explosion created momentum amongst some of the dust, rocks and gas produced in the "Big Bang" 4-billion years ago. The particles were drawn into the center of the black-hole, eventually changing into matter which eventually created the earth.

Maropeng Exhibition

The Maropeng exhibition is self-guided, and, depending on your level of interest, can take anything from one to five hours. Some of the exhibition highlights include:

  • The beginning of the world
  • The Path to humanity
  • Bipedalism
  • Development of the jaw and diet
  • Development and growth of the brain
  • Stone tools
  • Control and use of fire
  • Development of language
  • Living with other
  • Peopling the world
  • Creative explosion
  • Sustainability
  • Original fossil display

Review of the Maropeng Visitor Center

Wow. Just, wow. With quite an interest in the topic, Maropeng literally blew my mind! There is so much to see and experience here. I knew we were in for a fun time when we saw the Stone Age excavation site even before entering the Tumulus building.

The Stone Age site has been excavated by scientists from the University of the Witwatersrand since 2005. The stone tools found in this site at Maropeng belongs to the Archeulean period, and include hand axes and cleavers.

The boat ride was a little less "awesome" than the marketing material makes it sound, but still definitely worthwhile. Children will love it! The boat goes through several "stages", simulating the creation of the earth. Real snow and ice machines are used to achieve this, and they get it pretty much spot on.

And what mind-blowing surprise the "black-hole" was! Honestly, I have never experienced anything like it before. If for no other reason, visit Maropeng only to walk through this totally weird and unbelievably cool tunnel. I would not recommend people with light-sensitive epilepsy to go through here though...

The Maropeng Exhibition is huge! The Maropeng curators have gone out of their to make the Maropeng exhibit as informative and interactive as possible, and will appeal to visitors of all ages. I must admit, I got tired of reading after a while, but still enjoyed the exhibition very much, especially talking to a kwagga and a dodo! (You'll know what I mean after you've been at Maropeng :)

All-and-all, Maropeng is an educational discovery of note, if you can overlook a bit of propaganda, and are willing to pay the steep entry fee...

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