The origins of humankind

  • October 02, 2012

Looking for a holiday destination that will be enjoyed by you, your friends and your family? A quick 45 minute drive from the busy city life of Johannesburg or Pretoria will lead you to Maropeng, a home for all humankind.

Maropeng is the Official Visitor Centre for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. The Cradle is where some of the most important fossils, that tell about our human journey have been found.

Maropeng is a Setswana word that means “returning to our place of origins”. Before entering, the staff members are ready with a warm welcome, saying “Welcome home” to everyone, be it to local tourists or international tourists. Mainly because they strongly believe that humankind started in sunny Africa.

Apart from being mesmerised by the stunning architecture and the beauty of Mother Nature at its best, give yourself time to learn more about “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot”.

Who are Mrs Ples and Little Foot?

Expecting an old lady known as “Mrs Ples” and maybe her pet by the name Little Foot? You, along with many others, are in for a very big surprise.

Mrs Ples our distant relative

The discovery of “Mrs Ples” is an intriguing discovery, one that has opened a window to our previous life.  It is believed that “Mrs Ples” is a distant relative of humankind.

“Mrs Ples” is a well-preserved skull of an Australopithecus africanus, 2.15 million years old.The skull of “Mrs Ples” was discovered by Dr Robert Broom on 18 April 1947 at the Sterkfontein Caves.  After she was discovered, she became known worldwide and has remained famous to this day. The significance of South Africa and Africa as a whole in understanding our past could no longer be ignored.

With the help of CT scans, more research is being done to determine if “Mrs Ples” was  an  adult female or a young male individual.

“Little Foot”, the Big find

“Little Foot” is a full skeleton of an early Australopithecus which was excavated by paleoanthropologist Professor Ron Clarke. The footbones of “Little Foot” were discovered in the Sterkfontein Caves in 1994. They had human features in the hind foot and the forefoot was very apelike.

Possibly 3 million years old, Professor Ron Clarke is now carefully removing all the rock from around the skeleton to reveal the true extent of its importance

These discoveries have confirmed Charles Darwin’s theory that humankind started in Africa, after he’d conducted  studies on living primates.

Did you know?
• Some of the earliest fossils of life on Earth have been found in South Africa
• The first stone tools were made and used in Africa, dating back  2.6 million years
Homo sapiens evolved in Africa approximately 200 000 years ago
• Some of the oldest rock art in the world has been discovered in southern Africa
• At least one million years ago, our ancestors were able to use and control fire in the Cradle of Humankind

Maropeng a resting place
After a long day, exploring all the facilities at Maropeng, make a stop at the 4-Star Boutique hotel. Overlooking the breath taking beauty of the Magaliesberg Mountain and Witswatersberg, Maropeng’s Hotel was opened on the 1st of June 2006. The hotel has 24 bedrooms, and has conference facilities for small niche corporate groups.

It has stuck to a more natural, warm feel. The interior has been designed with a combination of modern features with a hint of ancient elements of earth, fire, air and water.

What to expect from the Hotel:

• 14 twin executive rooms, one of which has been designed with wheelchair access

• 10 king executive studio rooms

• En-suite bathrooms with separate shower

• Air conditioning

• Mini-bar (can be stocked on request)

• A safe

Public Facilities include:

• Stylish cosy lounge with fire place

• Swimming pool with a breath taking view

• Restaurant and bar leading to a patio

Hominid House

Situated in the scenic grassland surrounding the Visitor Centre is the ideal place for school kids, sporting and tour groups.

The four dormitory-style rooms at the Hominid House can sleep up to 120 children or adults separately. Guides, teachers and leaders are placed in neatly appointed single rooms. Packed lunches can be arranged upon request, but meals are served in the public dining area.

Activities available

• Basketball

• Football

• Volleyball

• Table tennis

• Slip and slide

• Camp fire in designated areas

All these activities allow group members to communicate through interactive storytelling and outdoor games. 

For more information and bookings call 014 577 9000 or email

Activities for everyone

From the beginning till the end of the tour, you’ll be intrigued by the different themes of evolution, the unique characteristics of humankind and diversity before being thrown into the depths of the Earth.

Star Gazing

Many years ago the Khoisan people had a remarkable knowledge of stars and strongly believed that time was in the stars.

Star Gazing- Join Maropeng’s very own astronomer, Vincent Nettmann, as he takes you and your family on a journey beyond our own galaxy.  Depending on the date chosen, these star gazing events comprise various formats. This is an opportunity to learn more about other galaxies and the whole universe and the adults get to enjoy snacks and drinks while the sun sets. Depending to weather conditions, you will be able to observe the summer sky objects and the moon through a range of large aperture telescopes.

Don’t forget to bring your binoculars!

Visitor Centre

Opens 09:00 am

Closes 17:00 pm

Last boat ride at 16:00 pm

The Tumulus Building is a mysterious unique building that is rich with information which is accessible to all. The visitor centre was built to showcase the Cradle of Humankind and hominid fossils discovered on this site.

•Before commencing with the tour, visitors have an opportunity to enjoy a light snack from the Market Place restaurant

Enjoy a boat adventure that will take you through the four classical elements-fire, air,earth and water.

From there all visitors will continue on foot through a vortex that will lead into an audio visual presentation that will teach everyone about the formation of Earth and also give a deep explanation about how the continents as we know them today were distributed.

The tour continues to a more fun interactive zone, explaining the scientific study of evolution and giant displays on the formation of fossils, DNA and life on Earth just to name a few.

Sterkfontein Caves

Opens 09:00 am

Closes 17:00 pm

Last guided tour departs at 16:00 pm

The Sterkfontein Caves are owned by the University of Witwatersrand; the scientists from the university are responsible for the main excavations and have discovered thousands of hominid and animals fossils.

The most famous fossils found in the Sterkfontein Caves that date back to 4 million years are “Mrs Ples”, the skull of an Australopithecus africanus which is 2.15-million years old, and “Little Foot”, an almost complete skeleton of an Australopithecus that is more than 3-million years old. 

Cooper’s Caves

1.2 km away from the famous Sterkfontein Caves. Several species of animals and a number of stone tools have been found in these caves. 

A must do for adults and children with an interest in palaeontology and archaeology!

The tour usually starts at 09:00am from the Sterkfontein Caves and is a family event. It is conducted by Dr Christine Steininger the only woman in South Africa to hold a permit for an active dig.

 Day Activities for everyone:

• Walking tours

• Interactive fossil and site talk

• Exploring a cave

• An  opportunity to look for fossils

• Learning how to make stone tools

All these activities allow group members to communicate through interactive storytelling and outdoor games.

For more information and bookings, contact 014 577 9000 or email

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