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Every now and again it is pru­dent to look out­side our­selves and our lives, and take in the big pic­ture of cre­ation. It brings per­spec­tive and a sense of calm. Look­ing up at a star­ry night sky is one way of achiev­ing this renewal.

Anoth­er way that we dis­cov­ered, is going on a walk to Cooper’s Cave in the Cra­dle of Humankind in the com­pa­ny of palaeoan­thro­pol­o­gist Chris­tine Steininger.

We arrived at Sterk­fontein caves at 09h00 for the start of the adven­ture hun­dreds of mil­lions of years back in time. After a wel­come cof­fee and an intro­duc­tion that set the tone, the mixed group of adults and kids embarked on a mod­est stroll to Cooper’s Cave.

Stop­ping along the route, Chris­tine put the present-day land­scape into the con­text of a time­line extend­ing mil­lions of years into a his­to­ry that does not include Homo sapi­ens. Once under the ocean, the rocky land­scape head­ing down the slope into the forest­ed river­ine val­ley became a habi­tat ide­al for ear­ly hominids and preda­tors alike. With caves and sink­holes, the area, in hind­sight, was ide­al for the preser­va­tion of fossils.

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Before arriv­ing at Cooper’s Cave, in the shad­ow of a giant wild olive tree, Chris­tine laid out the moulds of var­i­ous hominid skulls. The chil­dren were invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate in han­dling the skulls and exhibit­ing these to the adults sit­ting in a semi-cir­cle, as Chris­tine com­pared the skulls to one anoth­er in light of evo­lu­tion. The tone was light-heart­ed and enter­tain­ing. Those who want­ed more seri­ous dis­cus­sions and insights, could chat to Chris­tine one-on-one.

Mov­ing on again, we arrived at the area known as Cooper’s Cave.

Find­ing a safe route down into the cave, we were invit­ed to explore the depths of the cave. A torch or head­lamp is a must here, to safe­ly nav­i­gate the loose rock and soil.

Inter­est­ing­ly, the main fos­sil deposit is not in a cave but exposed to the ele­ments via a vein struc­ture. Exten­sive­ly exca­vat­ed, and still an active research site, we were invit­ed to care­ful­ly explore the site and find fos­silised bones in the rock stra­ta. Eas­i­er said than done, but once point­ed out the pic­tures start­ed to come to life. The major­i­ty of fos­sils found here are car­ni­vores and oth­er fau­na: the tooth of a sabre-toothed cat was point­ed out, as were the bones of a short-necked giraffe.

Once our appetite for fos­sils was sat­is­fied, we made our way back to the wild olive tree and a gourmet pic­nic lunch. Relaxed, fed and watered, we made our way back to Sterk­fontein in the warm win­ter sunshine.

A fas­ci­nat­ing morn­ing was had by the fam­i­ly, and it served to high­light the fos­sil wealth that lies in the Cradle.

Click here to book your place for the upcom­ing Cooper’s Cave pic­nic and walk­ing tour