The heads of state of the BRICS bloc of coun­tries (Brazil, Rus­sia, India, Chi­na and South Africa) were this week treat­ed to a vir­tu­al tour of Maropeng via a live satel­lite video link between the Sand­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­tre and the Maropeng Vis­i­tor Centre.

The 30-minute cross­ing fea­tured a beau­ti­ful per­for­mance by Joburg Bal­let, as well as a whirl­wind trip through Maropeng’s exhi­bi­tion space to view some of the most sig­nif­i­cant hominid fos­sil finds to come out of the Cra­dle of Humankind.

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A Joburg Bal­let per­for­mance greet­ed dig­ni­taries vis­it­ing Maropeng. (Image: Maropeng)

Speak­ing on the live link from Sand­ton, South African Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa said that while it was unfor­tu­nate that the BRICS lead­ers were not able to vis­it Maropeng as part of their vis­it to South Africa, he was proud to share the expe­ri­ence with them virtually.

The Cra­dle, Ramaphosa said, is a good reminder of the world’s shared human­i­ty and shared future. It is a place of pil­grim­age for all humankind and a place of sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery into our ori­gins,” he said.

Min­is­ter of High­er Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing Nale­di Pan­dor host­ed the vir­tu­al vis­it to Maropeng, tak­ing the world lead­ers, via the live video feed, through some of the most sig­nif­i­cant dis­cov­er­ies that have come from the Cradle.

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Pro­fes­sor Ron Clarke tells the sto­ry of Lit­tle Foot. (Image: Maropeng)

We will be view­ing, for the first time ever, three almost com­plete hominin species, espe­cial­ly assem­bled on the occa­sion of the BRICS sum­mit,” said Pandor.

She was joined by palaeon­tol­o­gist Pro­fes­sor Bruce Rubidge, act­ing vice-chan­cel­lor at Wits Uni­ver­si­ty Prof. Tawana Kupe, Gaut­eng MEC for Edu­ca­tion Panyaza Lesu­fi, and world-renowned palaeoan­thro­pol­o­gist Prof. Ron Clarke.

The dig­ni­taries began by view­ing Neo, the most com­plete Homo nale­di skele­ton ever found, which was unveiled at Maropeng last year. They then viewed Lit­tle Foot, a near­ly com­plete Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus prometheus skele­ton, dis­cov­ered by Clarke some 20 years ago. The final his­toric fos­sil shown was Karabo, an Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus sed­i­ba skele­ton dis­cov­ered by Prof. Lee Berg­er, which was dis­cov­ered in 2008.

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Pro­fes­sor Tawana Kupe speak­ing as dig­ni­taries view a skele­ton of Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus sed­i­ba. (Image: Maropeng)

Clarke told Pan­dor and the heads of state watch­ing via satel­lite that Lit­tle Foot, which has been dat­ed at 3.6-million years old, has spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for the human ori­gin story.

She’s got a few parts miss­ing, but she’s been through a lot in the past 3.6-million years – falling into a cave, cov­ered in sed­i­ment, being crushed by rock, erod­ed, blast­ed by min­ers. She may not be per­fect, but she is our great-great aunt, many times removed. And she’s per­fect to me,” said Clarke.

The tour wrapped up with an invi­ta­tion to BRICS lead­ers in Sand­ton to make hand­prints that would be tak­en back to Maropeng, to be dis­played along­side the hand­prints of for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela to mark 100 years since Mandela’s birth.

Ramaphosa told lead­ers in Sand­ton that the hand­print cer­e­mo­ny was a trib­ute to Madi­ba. In one of his speech­es, Man­dela said, The future that we want is in our hands.’ This is a demon­stra­tion that we are link­ing the present with the past, but at the same time, we’re look­ing for a brighter future.”

Watch the hand­print cer­e­mo­ny below.