Saturday, May 24, 2008

Esteemed Ancestry

At the confluence of the Shashi and Limpopo rivers, where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet, a civilisation once existed that centred on and around Mapungubwe Hill, thriving as a sophisticated trading centre about 1100 AD. Today we know that the inhabitants traded gold and ivory with Egypt, Persia, India and China, and also mined iron ore, copper and tin. When Mapungubwe was excavated, intricate jewelery and ornaments, as well as pottery remnants were discovered, apart from numerous grave-sites. In 2003, Mapungubwe was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The hill (left) is called "Little" Mapungubwe and is situated near the 300m long and about 30m high "hill of the jackal" (=Mapungubwe), also known as the "place of the wisdom-stone" (below).

Did you know that the most spectacular of the gold discoveries at Mapungubwe is a little gold rhino? It consists of gold foil tacked with minute pins around a wooden core.

This is a photo (left) on top of Mapungubwe hill, with the remains of a water-well visible in the front. The king (or chief?) living in relative seclusion on this hill (whilst his subjects inhabited the surrounding valley) must have spent some time playing
morabaraba - a game still
popular today in many parts of Africa - the holes depicting this are still visible today on a flat rock (right).

The Cradle of Humankind at Sterkfontein (west of Johannesburg) is the world's richest hominid site. The complex, of great palaeo-anthropological value, is also one of South Africa's UNESCO Heritage Sites, which yielded valuable evidence of the origins of modern humans. The fossilised remains of hominids are found here embedded in numerous dolomitic caves.

The University of the Witwatersrand "owns" the caves and for more than 60 years already, excavates them, but still, new "secrets" are uncovered. Amongst a wealth of finds, Sterkfontein has produced fossil deposits dating back to nearly 4 million years, which provide intimate information about different hominid species that once existed.

A few years ago, an almost complete Australopithecus africanus skeleton was discovered and called "Little Foot" - after Prof Ron Clarke recognised bones in a box he believed belonged to homonid feet. He instructed his 2 assistants, Nkwane Molefe and Steven Motsumi, to look in the Silberberg Grotto for the rest of the skeleton - which amazingly, they found encased in breccia after searching for ONLY 2 days! My photo (above) depicts a cast/copy of Little Foot, which was temporarily displayed last year at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria.

Also at the Transvaal Museum, "hidden" in a vault, is the most complete skull ever found of an adult Australopithecus africanus, known as Mrs Ples (right). New evidence suggest that it wasn't a female, but instead is the skull of a young adult male. Together with groups of tourists, I regularly have the pleasure of viewing this skull at close range (by special appointment).

Apart from that I'm proud to say - I live very close to the Cradle from where humankind appears to have evolved!

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