Maropeng celebrates 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth

  • February 11, 2009

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth on February 12, 2009, Maropeng will be holding a poster exhibition entitled Darwin, Origins and Africa, in conjunction with the Institute of Human Origins and the Origins Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Darwin’s theory of evolution – that all organisms adapt and evolve or alternatively die out through a process he called “natural selection” – is one of the most influential scientific theories of all time, and remains the basis for modern biology.

“The Cradle of Humankind is inextricably linked to the work of Charles Darwin in that it was the discoveries of the Taung Child and Mrs Ples that would prove what he had theorised – that Africa is the Cradle of Humankind,” says Maropeng Curator Lindsay Marshall.

The exhibition, which opens at the Maropeng Visitor Centre on February 12, 2009 and runs for most of the year, focuses on the following facts:

  1. Darwin visited South Africa during his famous voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, anchoring in Simon’s Town from May 31 – June 18, 1836 – the longest the ship spent at any one place during its voyage around the world, other than the Galapagos Islands.
  2. Darwin predicted that Africa would prove to be the place of origin of humankind, long before the first hominid fossils would be uncovered in the World Heritage Site that is now known as the Cradle of Humankind.
  3. Darwin was the first person to articulate the theory that apes and humans had a common ancestor.

Charles Darwin (1809-82) achieved international prominence and academic acclaim, with the publication of his book On the Origins of Species, which also marks a significant anniversary this year – 150 years since its publication.

Join in the celebrations

On weekends, pop in at Maropeng’s Darwin Café where birthday cake and coffee will be on sale. Guides will also be on hand to take you through important aspects of the poster display.

Learn more about Darwin

Darwin 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 survive, while those that don’t adapt become extinct.

Darwin also argued that all species of life on Earth are inter-related and have a common ancestry, dating back to the earliest forms of life.

Evidence supporting this theory can be seen in hominid fossils from the Sterkfontein Caves and other sites in the Cradle of Humankind. These fossils show that our early hominid ancestors had human-like teeth and could walk on two legs, but that they also had several ape-like features, including small brains.

Later in the year, Maropeng will host a new original fossil display based on the theory of evolution, in line with the year-long Darwin celebrations.

“We will bring in fossil evidence – not just about human evolution – to explain the idea of evolution,” says Marshall.

Information about Darwin and evolution is available on the Maropeng online exhibition guides. Read an introduction to evolution or the more detailed page on human evolution.

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