The Tumulus building
The Maropeng exhibition is housed in the Tumulus building, which combines cutting edge architecture with clever use of space - all within strict environmental guidelines.
On the way
Along the pathway to the Tumulus building, stop to have a look at the site of an archaeological excavation. The Stone Age site has been excavated since October 2005 by scientists from the University of the Witwatersrand. The early stone tools found here belong to the Acheulean period and include handaxes and cleavers.
Early humans and their ancestors came to the Maropeng area to use the local rocks for tool-making as they pursued a hunter-gatherer way of life. The technology of these tools suggests they were made sometime between 1.0 and 0.5 million years ago during the Earlier Stone Age, prior to the appearance of modern Homo sapiens.
These stone tools are periodically on display in the Maropeng Original Fossil Area. Please ask a guide about this display area as the original fossils on display change regularly.
Pause, too, to read some of the messages about our past engraved on rocks as you walk up to the entrance. They include, among others:
- The universe was formed about 14-billion years ago. The Earth is about 4.6-billion years old.
- Life first emerged about 3.8-billion years ago. Our journey begins in South Africa, where fossils of some of the earliest known life forms on Earth have been found.
- All of humanity shares an African heritage. We are one, diverse species across the globe, with our roots in Africa.
The architecture of Maropeng, designed by GAPP Architects and MMA (Mphethi Morejele Architects), was based on the theme of discovery. When you approach the site, you see seven concrete fingers or 14m high concrete columns, signifying the centre, which moves in and out of sight along its approach. The concrete fingers have words on them that hint at the major themes of the exhibition, such as “Imagine”, “Explore”, “Contemplate”, and “Discover”.
The marketplace where you buy your tickets and a grassed amphitheatre that accommodates 10 000 people are sunken into the grounds around the Maropeng Visitor Centre, housed in the Tumulus Building. The Tumulus Building is evocative of a giant burial mound or perhaps an enormous buried fossil, with concrete “bones” sticking out the top. There is a learner centre and a hotel inside the development, which are mostly hidden in the rolling hills. All these aspects of Maropeng encourage the visitor to discover more, to dig deeper as a palaeoanthropologist would while looking for fossils embedded in rock, to find Maropeng’s many diverse aspects.
As you walk through the exhibition itself, you move in a journey of discovery from the beginnings of the world, through the history of humankind, right into the future. As you emerge, you discover one of the best views in Gauteng.
When you first see the tumulus, it looks like a giant burial mound. At the end of the exhibition, when you turn and see it again from the back, it’s totally transformed – it’s silver, grey and glass, hi-tech and futuristic. You get a feeling that you’re not at the end of history, but at the beginning of the future.
Step inside ...
Once inside the Tumulus, stop for a moment in the lobby to take in the architecture and décor. Notice how the classical elements – earth, fire, water and air – are reflected in the various aspects of the building. These elements are important in the formation of our planet and you will experience and learn more about them throughout the exhibition.
Welcome inside the Maropeng Visitor Centre. Around you, you will see an introduction to the major themes of the exhibition. The four entrance signifier columns symbolise the four elements which are essential to support life on Earth: the air that we breathe; the fire that warms us; the earth that sustains us; the water for life.
The Cradle of Humankind was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 because of the area’s exceptional contribution to our understanding of humankind’s history and development, over more than 3-million years. All together, there are 15 major fossil sites in the Cradle of Humankind, of which the Sterkfontein Caves is the most famous. The fossils “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot” were both discovered here, as well as thousands more fossils of hominids, which are human ancestors, as well those of plants and animals.
Underground boat ride
The boat adventure starts at the present and continues on a trip back through time, retracing the various stages of the creation of our earth. Snow-making and ice-producing machines give voyagers an indication of what the most recent ice age may have been like. The journey goes back further into time, when the world was submerged in water, and beyond that to the formation of the earth’s crust and the shifting of the tectonic plates.
Finally the beginning is reached, when the earth was a fiery ball of molten rock, and the ride ends dramatically in a simulated ‘black hole’. Scientists theorise that our world came into existence as a result of the collapse of the first star, creating a ‘black hole’ with a powerful gravitational pull. The force of the explosion created momentum amongst some of the dust, rocks and gas produced in the ‘Big Bang’ 14-billion years ago. These particles were drawn into the centre of the ‘black hole’, gradually amassing into matter which eventually created the earth.
Visitors continue on foot for 3 metres in the ‘black hole’, before emerging in front of an audio-visual presentation of the formation of the earth, providing further understanding of the sensory experience of the boat.
Original fossil display
At the end of the exhibition is the original fossil display. This area houses original fossils on loan to Maropeng from various institutions across the country, and it changes regularly.
Read some of our visitor feedback.
- Maropeng exhibition
- Conferencing and events
- Resources for schools
Maropeng 09h00 - 17h00 every day
Sterkfontein Caves 09h00 - 17h00 every day
Rates and specials
Adults: R120 | Children (4-14): R65
Children under 4: free
School groups: R65 per pupil
Adults: R165 | Children (4-14): R97
Children under 4: free
School groups: R90 per pupil
Adults: R190 | Children (4-14): R125
School groups: R120 per pupil
Please note: No pets are allowed at Maropeng and Sterkfontein. Service dogs and guide dogs are the exception