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WWelcome to Maropeng (the official visitor centre of the Cradle of Humankind). Maropeng means “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana, the main indigenous language in this area of South Africa. The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is an easy drive of about an hour from Johannesburg or Pretoria. Our ancestors have lived in this area for more than 3-million years. By coming here, you are coming to the birthplace of humanity. Welcome home! Upon arrival at Maropeng, the Tumulus Building (pictured left) is mysterious and strange, but in contrast to this first impression, it contains a wealth of knowledge accessible to all. The Tumulus, suggestive of an ancient underground burial mound, was purpose-built as a visitor centre to showcase the Cradle of Humankind and the unprecedented quantity of hominid fossils discovered at the fossil sites in this area. The interactive and informative exhibition inside the buildings showcases the progress that humankind has made from our early beginnings to where we are today, and promotes a consciousness of preserving our natural heritage for future generations. It is a fun and educational visit for the entire family. Before commencing with the tour (or afterwards), visitors have the opportunity to have a light snack at the market place restaurant, or browse through the well-stocked curio shop. The tour begins at the entrance of the Tumulus with an introduction to Maropeng and its major themes of evolution, diversity, sustainability and the unique characteristics of being human, before descending down a ramp and into the depths of the Earth… Visitors are taken on a journey back in time, starting with a boat adventure that takes visitors through an immersive experience of the four classical elements – earth, air, fire and water. Visitors continue on foot through a swirling vortex, before emerging in front of an audiovisual presentation of the formation of the Earth projected on a giant globe, and an explanation of how the continents as we know them today came to be distributed over the world. The tour proceeds to a large interactive zone explaining some of the science relating to the study of evolution conveyed in fun, giant displays on the formation of fossils, DNA, and life on Earth among other topics. Sustainability is another topic: scientists believe that five mass extinctions on Earth so far, all caused by natural forces. Now, though, many believe that we are in the midst of the next extinction, the Sixth Mass Extinction – and the cause is us. Their message to us is that unless we take the theme of sustainability seriously, we will create our own destruction. The next section highlights various species in hominid evolution. These include our earliest relations such as the 7-million-year-old Sahelanthropus tchadensis from Chad, the 6-million-year-old Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya, and the 5.8-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba from Ethiopia. A lot of emphasis is placed on Australopethicus, which is the genus of the famous Cradle of Humankind fossils “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot”, and on Homo, the genus to which humans belong. The exhibition traces the path of evolution from Homo habilis to today’s Homo sapiens, which is only about 200 000 years old. Many species of Homo existed between the early Homo habilis to modern humans, although some broke off the family tree of Homo and became extinct. More interactive displays provide insight into the unique characteristics of modern humankind whilst others impart a multitude of intriguing facts about the global human population. The tour concludes with an opportunity explore the Experience Lab and see preparators at work in the Virtual Lab. The current exhibition, in The Gallery, which can be found as you enter the Tumulus Building, allows guests to explore the discovery of the world famous Homo naledi fossils, and to see the original fossils first hand! The visitor centre is open daily from 9:00 to 17:00, and the last tour is at 4pm.