20 July 2012 by Kate Turkington

Bones for Africa

If you want to understand your past, then visit a never-seen-before priceless exhibition of fossils currently on display at Maropeng, the visitor centre of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

I’m listening in awe to Professor Bruce Rubidge from Wits University as he points to a bony little critter lying rather forlornly in a gleaming spotlit glass case at Maropeng. It couldn't be described as 'sexy', but it is vital to the human race.

'If it wasn’t for them,' he declares, 'we wouldn’t be here today'. ‘Them’ are Thrinaxodons, a species of the distant ancestors of mammals which survived the extinction of 252-million years ago and started humans on their long journey of evolution.

It’s impossible not to gaze in awe at the centrepiece of the collection – a 195-million-year-old clutch of dinosaur eggs, the oldest dinosaur eggs in the world – some with babies still inside them.

This week at Maropeng, the award-winning visitor centre of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, 40km northwest of Johannesburg, an extremely rare, never-seen-before collection of priceless fossils has gone on display to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of 1 of South Africa’s top universities – the University of the Witwatersrand.

Professor Bruce Rubidge explains how he found these fossils in the Karoo

As I walk into the giant tumulus mound which houses the visitor centre and this new collection of palaeontological treasures, the winter sun is shining on hills and grasslands that surround Maropeng, where once our hominid ancestors roamed.

It’s impossible not to gaze in awe at the centrepiece of the collection – a 195-million-year-old clutch of dinosaur eggs, the oldest dinosaur eggs in the world – some with babies still inside them. The babies, by the way are called ‘chicks’ which gives a whole new perspective to those scary monsters we saw in movies like Jurassic Park.

Another eye-catcher is a vertebra from Aardonyx, a dinosaur never displayed at Maropeng before which has taught scientists about how early dinosaurs walked.

A fossil with attitude - the Therocephalian Ictisuchoides

And if there is one fossil that could be described as ‘cute’, it has to be the Therocephalian Ictidosuchoides Intermedius, whose name may not actually trip off the tongue, but has character and attitude.

Go and see for yourself. The exhibition is on from 19 July.

So what are fossils?

Category: Attractions, Culture & History


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