“Once upon a time there was a little girl obsessed with Barbies – 23 Barbies – watching an episode of Tintin and then everything changed.”
If you’re familiar with Maropeng, you’re familiar with the adventures of our intrepid curator, Keneiloe Molopyane. If not, you can read more here.
This month, sportswear brand Hi-Tec featured Molopyane as part of a series of profiles of South Africans to celebrate Heritage Month.
She spoke about her adventures as an “underground astronaut” – the nickname given to the palaeoanthropologists who explored the Rising Star Cave system in which the world-famous Homo naledi fossils were found.
“Crawling through the Rising Star cave system, that was crazy. To get to the chamber, you have to go through Superman’s Crawl, which is about 20cm wide and it’s about 5m in length. On your belly, kissing the ground as you go, inhaling the dust. The tiniest point in the chute is called the Pinch Point and it’s about 18cm in width and you have to squeeze yourself [through].”
She also reflected on her role as curator of the Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves visitor centres.
“My job is to filter through the science jargon and talk to people,” she says. “I learnt the language of bones at some point and now I’m learning the language of social media, which is making science cool and accessible. We’re using that to communicate science and to make it less intimidating …
“South Africa has a very rich fossil heritage – we’ve produced the most iconic fossils in a very small area. And you don’t get that in any other place in the world …
“It’s through the study of these fossils that we understand the complexities [of how our species evolved into modern humans], from diet to walking upright to behaviour. It is this phase of time that connects all of humanity together, because this is the period in which we are all one species.
“As an archaeologist in the Cradle of Humankind, I have a very unique position, because I’m a black female. This is a very rare position to find myself in. I hope to encourage young girls, just like me, to get into this.”