Following in the Footsteps of Mrs Ples

As someone who’s not only extremely fond of travelling and seeing the sights, but also interested in archaeology, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that this Easter holiday was my first time visiting the Cradle of Humankind. This World Heritage site is situated less than an hour’s drive from my hometown, Pretoria, so there’s really no good excuse for not having explored the region before. As it is, we didn’t get to see that much of the area, apart from getting a little lost on our way to the museum at Maropeng. In our defence, we’d seen two caves in the past year or so and couldn’t quite scrounge up enough enthusiasm for stalagmites and stalactites so soon again, and the weather was fairly miserable, so we wanted to be warm and indoors as much as possible.

 
 

Those of you who have already heard of the world-famous Mrs Ples will be interested to know that she (or he, as it may be) was discovered in Sterkfontein in 1947 and was thought to be the Missing Link between humans and our ape-like ancestors. Although the real skull isn’t on display, we did get to see a copy of it while our tour guide (whose real name is also Maropeng, funnily enough) told us a little bit more about the significance of the skull and other important discoveries made in the area.

The museum at Maropeng is located inside a strange-looking burial mound called the Tumulous building. The entrance fee is quite hefty at R120 per person (although children, students and pensioners get discounts), but the price becomes apparent once you’re inside. Your journey through time starts with a spiralling walkway leading into the bowels of the earth, important events highlighted on a timeline spanning across millions of years. A leisurely boat ride, in which you discover the elements that are the building blocks of our planet, and a dizzying re-enactment of the Big Bang later, you emerge in one of the most fun-filled interactive museums I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Granted, the exhibitions and activities are aimed at younger kids, but those young at heart with an enquiring mind can have just as much fun as the little ones. We wandered from display to display, dialling extinct animals to learn more about them, pushing buttons, twiddling knobs, turning dials, watching lights go on and off and learning all about the history of mankind through the ages. It was loads of fun!

As we left the building and walked back towards the car, we passed several cement casts of famous people’s footprints and made light-hearted jokes about Thabo Mbeki’s shoe size and the little impression Jacob Zuma made.

This long-overdue visit to the Cradle of Humankind didn’t disappoint and I’m sure we’ll come back to explore the area, and the historic caves underneath it, in earnest in the near future.

For more posts in the Krugersdorp – Glen Reenen Breakaway series, click here.

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