05 September 2014 by Kolosa Vuso

Malapa structure unveiled at Cradle of Humankind

The Malapa structure was officially unveiled in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site on Thursday 4 September 2014.

Professor Lee Berger with the Australopithecus sediba fossils. Image courtesy of Maropeng

In 2010, a new species of hominid, the two-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba, was discovered by nine-year-old Matthew Berger, son of prominent palaeoanthropologist Professor Lee Berger, at the Malapa fossil site in the Cradle of Humankind.

It is hoped many more fossils will be unearthed there, as Prof Berger believes the site is 'littered with fossils'.

Thus a protective structure – the Malapa structure – had to be built to protect the site from the elements, as the removal of each fossil segment leaves the site in a fragile state and more exposed.

Mags Pillay, programme manager at the Cradle of Humankind, said the discovery of Australopithecus sediba was unlike any other fossil discovery, hence the Malapa structure.

'Unlike other fossil sites, where fossils were discovered in the ground, the Malapa fossils were discovered on the surface; there is basically a hole in the ground – full of fossils.

'The protective site allows for excavations to continue. The design is unique, and it takes into account the environment. The structure is also movable.'  

Malapa, like other fossil sites in the Cradle of Humankind, is on private land. But Pillay said it will be open to VIPs, ministers and those looking to invest in the heritage of the Cradle of Humankind. There will also be paid private tours allowed as of next year, from which money will go to funding ongoing projects around the area. 

The 14m-tall Malapa structure is a curved dome above the excavation that is raised off the ground on eight legs, giving it the nickname of 'the beetle'.

The structure, designed by architect Kraynauw Nel, has also been shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival.

The Malapa project is the result of combined efforts by the University of the Witwatersrand and the Gauteng government.

Gauteng Tourism CEO Dawn Robertson, who was at the launch of the structure on Thursday, said: 'The building symbolises the cooperation between the province and academic institutions such as the University of the Witwatersrand.

'We must safeguard this vitally important site because it contains vital evidence of the origins of the human race right here on our doorstep.'

'Malapa is one of the most significant palaeoanthropological sites in the world, and it is important that it is carefully conserved and worked. Without this building, that would simply not have been possible,' she said.

When visiting or learning about this World Heritage Site, Pillay hopes people 'take away the remarkable story of fossils stumbled upon by Lee and his son. We should all point our heritage to the Cradle of Humankind and Africa.' 

The Malapa structure is 14m tall. Image courtesy of Dawn Robertson The Malapa structure is 14m tall. Image courtesy of Dawn Robertson
Professor Lee Berger. Image courtesy of Dawn Robertson Professor Lee Berger. Image courtesy of Dawn Robertson
The structure is designed by architect Kraynauw Nel. Image courtesy of Dawn Robertson The structure is designed by architect Kraynauw Nel. Image courtesy of Dawn Robertson

Category: Culture & History

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