Maropeng Exhibition Guide

The Maropeng online exhibition guide complements the displays in the visitor centre at Maropeng.

The displays at Maropeng, as well as the interactive games and underground boat ride, focus on the earth and the origins on life on earth, man's pathway towards humanity, our human ancenstry and the sustainability of life on the planet in the future. 

Feel free to use our information for educational and individual purposes with credit to Maropeng, but you many not duplicate it for commercial purposes.

Beginning of the world and birth of the Cradle of Humankind

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.

To read more, click here.

Today’s landscape in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site

The Cradle of Humankind comprises many palaeontological sites – all together, there are 15 sites which make up the World Heritage Site.

To read more, click here.

Fossil sites in the Cradle of Humankind

There are 15 major fossil sites within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Each one has yielded fossils ranging from ancient monkeys and sabre-toothed cats to hominids, which are the forerunners or modern humans.

Click here for a list of these sites and what they are best known for.

The formation of the Earth’s continents

In the beginning, more than 4.6-billion years ago, the world was a ball of burning gas, spinning through space. At first, super-heated gases were able to escape into outer space, but as the Earth cooled, they were held by gravity to form the early atmosphere.

Click here to read more.

The development of life on Earth

Since the first life appeared in the Earth’s oceans about 3.8-billion years ago, the pattern of life on our planet has become increasingly complex.

To read more, click here.

Introduction to DNA

The study of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) allows scientists to unlock the secrets of our ancestors and predict how we might evolve in the future.

To read more, click here.

Introduction to evolution

Charles Darwin (1809-82) was the first person to articulate the theory of evolution. He argued the case for natural selection – that over time creatures which are able to adapt biologically to changes in their environments (in other words, evolve) survive, while those that don’t adapt become extinct.

To read more, click here.


Five major extinctions have rocked life on Earth. During these periods of mass extinction, huge numbers of species of life died out due to wide-scale environmental changes. Many scientists claim that currently we are experiencing a sixth mass extinction.

To read more, click here.

What are fossils?

Fossils are the remains of plants and animals that have been preserved in sedimentary rocks. Fossils are generally rare. For every animal that dies, its chances of becoming fossilised are estimated to be less than one in a million.

To read more, click here.

How limestone caves are formed

A limestone cave or cavern is a natural cavity that is formed underneath the Earth’s surface that can range from a few metres to many kilometres in length and depth.

To read more, click here.

Pathway to humanity

Our ancient family tree

Our most direct ancestors, those who belong to the Homo genus, first emerged about 2.3-million years ago, in Africa.

To read more, click here.

The age of Australopithecus

Australopithecus was an early ancestor of modern humans, was much smaller than us, and walked upright, but was probably unable to make tools.

To read more, click here.

“Little Foot”

“Little Foot is the most remarkable skeleton. It is pretty much complete, from foot to head.  It’s got 32 teeth in position; it’s marvellous.” – University of the Witwatersrand Professor Phillip Tobias.

To read more, click here.


Humans are the last surviving species in the genus Homo

To read more, click here.

The early personalities of South African palaeoanthroplogy

Professor Raymond Dart and Dr Robert Broom were the fathers of palaeoanthropology in South Africa. They both believed – after Dart had found the Taung Skull in 1924 – that humankind was born in Africa.

To read more, click here.

The science of studying fossils

The search for fossils begins with geological surveys. Some areas are more likely to yield fossils than others, and researchers normally concentrate their efforts on regions that have good, fossil-bearing rock such as the dolomitic limestone of the Cradle of Humankind and the ancient lake beds of East Africa.

To read more, click here.

Why is the Cradle of Humankind important?

The Cradle of Humankind is one of the world’s most important fossil sites because ...

To read more, click here.

What makes us human?

Bipedalism (the ability to walk on two legs)

The ability to walk upright on two legs is one of humanity’s defining physical characteristics.

To read more, click here.

The human brain

The evolution of the modern human brain has allowed us to think, feel, plan and act the way we do.

To read more, click here.

Tool making

Humans and our hominid ancestors are the only species that are able to use tools to make other tools.

To read more, click here.

Human communication

Humans can communicate with each other in ways that no other creature can.

To read more, click here.


Humans are unique because they can create new symbols and agree on their meaning. For example, these symbols can describe objects – like “river”, “meat” and “hyena” and emotions – like “kindness”, “despair” and “love”.

To read more, click here.

Living with others

Living in society with others has advantages for survival such as protection, access to food, and care for infants and mothers.

To read more, click here.

Our ability to control fire

Fire helped to spark language and culture. Society was born around a campfire. Fire was being used by hominids at least 1-million years ago at Swartkrans in the Cradle of Humankind.

To read more, click here.


Finally, we are creative beings. Our creativity is one of the unique characteristics of being human, and is perhaps the ultimate expression of our humanity.

Just before you walk out of the Maropeng exhibition, take a few minutes to watch the film on creativity, projected on a giant, round screen.


Maropeng tells us the story of how humankind first arose in the African cradle by adapting to the natural elements and later learning how to harness them to support our growing populations.

Today, we have developed such control over our environment, through agriculture and industry, that a new story is emerging, one that involves the future of our planet and ourselves. The food we eat, the appliances we use, the vehicles we travel in, the clothes we wear and so many other everyday aspects of our lives, depend on us utilising the Earth’s natural resources.

The Earth has a limited capacity to produce the raw materials needed to sustain our lifestyles.

But sustainability is not only about humans’ impact on the environment, it’s also about how we treat one another as a species.

The Gaia Principle

First described by James Lovelock in 1979, the Gaia Principle describes the Earth as a single, living organism, with all its biological, geological, chemical and hydrological processes acting in concert, to regulate the planet and ensure its survival through an exquisite array of feedback loops.

To read more, click here.

How the global environment has changed over time

About 65-million years ago, a giant meteor hit the Earth, sparking planet-wide volcanic eruptions and the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The Earth has been rocked by five mass extinctions. Today, some scientists believe that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction – with humans one of the key agents of change.

To read more, click here.

The Global Appetite

Our collective voracious appetite is putting strain on our planet. In this section, we share with you some interesting facts and statistics showing how food and global sustainability issues relate to one another.

To read more, click here.

Human mobility and urbanisation

Humans are the most mobile species on Earth. We are able to travel from one side of the world to the other faster than the speed of sound, thanks to our inventions.

To read more, click here.

Human impact on the environment

Humans have had a profound effect on the global environment, and this is ongoing.

To read more, click here.

Education and sustainability

Education is unequal across the globe. As in all issues of sustainability, it is a contested area with the richest consuming the most resources and the poorest the fewest.

Click here for more statistics and facts about the unevenness of education in the world today.

Alternative energy sources

We may be greedy, but we are also inventive and ingenious. We could find many renewable alternative energy sources that are more in tune with nature to replace our reliance on the fossil fuels, and therefore reduce the effect of global warming.

To read more, click here.

Poverty and wealth

The world is faced with a dilemma: countries need to develop economically and to do this they need natural resources, but at the same time, they need to preserve the environment so that future generations can succeed.

To read more, click here.

Your ecological footprint

Humans place pressure on the environment by the way they live their lives. Scientists came up with the idea of the “ecological footprint” to show how hard we tread on the Earth’s resources.

To read more, click here.

Visitor Information

Opening times

Maropeng 09h00 - 17h00 every day

(Please note that Maropeng will be closed on Thursday, 26 July 2018 for a private event) 

Sterkfontein Caves 09h00 - 17h00 every day

Rates and specials


Adults: R120 | Children (under 18): R65
Children under 4: free
Pensioners: R65 (for both sites)
Students: R75
School groups: R65 per pupil

Sterkfontein Caves

Adults: R165 | Children (under 18): R97
Children under 4: free
Pensioners: R65 (for both sites)
Students: R100
School groups: R90 per pupil

Combination ticket

Adults: R190 | Children (under 18): R125

Pensioners: R65 

School groups: R120 per pupil

Contact    |   Map and Directions

Please note: No pets are allowed at Maropeng and Sterkfontein. Service dogs and guide dogs are the exception

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