The Cradle of Humankind

As we left the hustle and bustle of the big cities, we entered into the area known as “The Cradle of Humankind” thanks to its rich archeological history.

DSC_2252This was probably my favorite part of the country. It is a wide open countryside with gently rolling hills and a mild climate. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to take deep breaths and be still. The fresh air settles over you like a cloak and you simply feel at peace.

Our first stop in the Cradle of Humankind was the Sterkfontein Caves.

Students listening to our tour guide.
Students listening to our tour guide.

The caves are a current archeological dig site, so there were restricted areas that we couldn’t go into. The tour, about 30 minutes long, took us down into the cave system.

Descending into the abyss.
Descending into the abyss.
Showing us an active dig area, which was restricted access.
Showing us an active dig area, which was restricted access.

There were some portions of the cave system that you literally had to crawl through. This was not an event for the claustrophobic!

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Also, if you aren’t very flexible (or an accomplished duck walker), you may need to actually crawl through the openings like some of my students did. You can tell by one of my students’ hands (on the left) that he spent a lot more time on all fours than I did. I thank yoga for that.

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As you exit the cave system, you come across a bust of Phillip Tobias, one of the most respected South Africa academics, who did extensive research in this region. It is a local tradition that visitors to the cave either rub the bust’s nose (for luck) or hand (for wisdom). As you can see, I chose to go for wisdom although clearly his nose is well worn.

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On the walk back to the main vistor’s center, there are lovely views of the surrounding area.

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DSC_2303From the caves, we went a short distance to Maropeng, the official visitors center for the Cradle of Humankind with a host of interactive displays discussing archeological history.

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The back of Maropeng
The back of Maropeng

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On the way out of the exhibition area, which was particularly a fascinating experience for my students who are also minoring in forensic anthropology, there was a cast of Nelson Mandela’s handprints. I couldn’t resist seeing how my hands “measured up.”

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From there, we drove the scenic route to Lesedi Cultural Village.

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From their website, here is a description of Lesedi Cultural Village.

Lesedi Cultural Village was established in 1993. The vision – to provide an authentic showcase of the traditional cultures of some of the well known African tribes, who have their home in South Africa. Representatives of these tribes facilitated the design of the cultural villages to ensure an historically representative portrayal of the cultures, highlighting aspects of the traditional way of life. Members of these historic communities live at Lesedi and continue to breathe life into their fascinating cultures.

As soon as you walk through the gates, you are treated to traditional African music. Don’t get me know, it’s absolutely a touristy attraction, but it was still very fascinating.

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There were craftsmen on hand selling their wares (and creating them in plain view).

DSC_2307Once our guided tour started, we were taken to a theater of sorts and shown a film about the history of the tribes in South Africa.

DSC_2310From there, we began our walk around the village.

A Zulu "look out" keeping track of the coming and goings of visitors.
A Zulu “look out” keeping track of the coming and goings of visitors.
A married tribal woman weaving a straw mat (with our tour guide standing next to her).
A married tribal woman weaving a straw mat (with our tour guide standing next to her).
Cows! It is a working village and as such, they have their own livestock to tend.
Cows! It is a working village and as such, they have their own livestock to tend.

At the end of our tour (which was in actuality about 2 hours long), we were brought into a meeting hall of sorts and shown traditional tribal dances.

DSC_2318It was also a show that invited audience participation. One of my students engaged in a stick fighting demonstration…

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and another one learned a tribal dance.

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After that we enjoyed a seriously delicious buffet of African cuisine and then we left after dark to head to our accommodations for the night.

DSC_2332I can say with absolutely certainty that when I return to South Africa, the Cradle of Humankind will be at the top of my destinations. What a simply beautiful part of the world.

 

 

 

 

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