Something for everyone at Cooper's Cave

  • September 04, 2013 | Kate de Villiers

Every now and again it is prudent to look outside ourselves and our lives, and take in the big picture of creation. It brings perspective and a sense of calm. Looking up at a starry night sky is one way of achieving this renewal.

Another way that we discovered, is going on a walk to Cooper’s Cave in the Cradle of Humankind in the company of palaeoanthropologist Christine Steininger.

We arrived at Sterkfontein caves at 09h00 for the start of the adventure hundreds of millions of years back in time. After a welcome coffee and an introduction that set the tone, the mixed group of adults and kids embarked on a modest stroll to Cooper’s Cave.

Stopping along the route, Christine put the present-day landscape into the context of a timeline extending millions of years into a history that does not include Homo sapiens. Once under the ocean, the rocky landscape heading down the slope into the forested riverine valley became a habitat ideal for early hominids and predators alike. With caves and sinkholes, the area, in hindsight, was ideal for the preservation of fossils.

Before arriving at Cooper’s Cave, in the shadow of a giant wild olive tree, Christine laid out the moulds of various hominid skulls. The children were invited to participate in handling the skulls and exhibiting these to the adults sitting in a semi-circle, as Christine compared the skulls to one another in light of evolution. The tone was light-hearted and entertaining. Those who wanted more serious discussions and insights, could chat to Christine one-on-one.

Moving on again, we arrived at the area known as Cooper’s Cave.

Finding a safe route down into the cave, we were invited to explore the depths of the cave. A torch or headlamp is a must here, to safely navigate the loose rock and soil.

Interestingly, the main fossil deposit is not in a cave but exposed to the elements via a vein structure. Extensively excavated, and still an active research site, we were invited to carefully explore the site and find fossilised bones in the rock strata. Easier said than done, but once pointed out the pictures started to come to life. The majority of fossils found here are carnivores and other fauna: the tooth of a sabre-toothed cat was pointed out, as were the bones of a short-necked giraffe.

Once our appetite for fossils was satisfied, we made our way back to the wild olive tree and a gourmet picnic lunch. Relaxed, fed and watered, we made our way back to Sterkfontein in the warm winter sunshine.

A fascinating morning was had by the family, and it served to highlight the fossil wealth that lies in the Cradle.

Click here to book your place for the upcoming Cooper's Cave picnic and walking tour

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