Scientists and researchers are busy putting finishing touches on a world-first exhibition set to be unveiled at Maropeng on Thursday. The Almost Human exhibition will be the largest-ever public display of hominin fossils in the world.

The fossils are all from a world-famous new hominin species discovered in South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind in 2013: Homo naledi.

Homo naledi was unveiled to the world in 2015, and, just two weeks ago, amazing discoveries from a second chamber discovered in the same cave system where naledi was found were unveiled to the world.

The Lesedi Chamber (Chamber of Light) yielded one of the most complete skeletons of a fossil human relative ever found. The adult male has been dubbed “Neo” (meaning “gift” in Sesotho). The fossils have also finally been dated (an exhaustive process in which scientists used six independent methods to narrow down their age).

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“Neo”, the skeleton of Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber. (Image: Wits University/John Hawks)

It’s been revealed that Homo naledi lived between 200 000 and 300 000 years ago – a startling discovery, as it means that the species potentially came into direct contact with the first modern humans who were emerging on the continent of Africa at the same time. The discovery has posed interesting new questions about the origin of our species.

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Geologist Dr Christa Placzek preparing samples for dating at James Cook University, Australia. (Image: Wits University)

Did Homo naledi meet early humans? Are they distant relatives of ours, surviving into the relatively recent past? Or are we more closely related to these strange, small brained pre-humans?

These are questions that visitors are likely to ponder as they tour the spectacular new exhibition, which will be opened at The Gallery, Maropeng’s new temporary exhibition space, on 25 May.

Nearly 1 000 original fossils

The exhibit of nearly 1 000 original fossils of Homo naledi from the Dinaledi and Lesedi chambers will explore the journey of discovery that led scientists to these remarkable finds. It will also look at the science behind the discoveries in an accessible way. Researchers have taken special care to ensure that the materials on display are understandable to audiences of all ages.

“We are honoured to be showcasing this cutting-edge research coming out of the Cradle,” says Maropeng curator Lindsay Marshall.

“The most amazing thing is seeing Lee Berger’s vision of The G​allery come to reality. It’s being transformed into a space where our visitors will really get to grips with the magnitude of the work involved in the excavation of, and research on, Homo naledi,” she adds.

Professor Lee Berger led the Rising Star expedition that led to the discovery of Homo naledi.

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The exhibit will be in a new temporary exhibition space at Maropeng called The Gallery.

The exhibition certainly represents a pivotal moment for Maropeng.

“This exhibition will highlight the fact that the Cradle of Humankind is an area of outstanding universal value,” says the visitor centre’s MD, Michael Worsnip.

“It is Gauteng’s only World Heritage Site, and is a premier tourism destination. Its brand value encompasses ancient history, human beginnings, adventure, discovery and a whole lot more,” he says.

Entrance to Almost Human is included in the entrance fee to the Maropeng Exhibition
Adults: R120 | Children (4-14): R65

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