From 20 to 20 billion years: Celebrate the story of our origins with the Cradle of Humankind’s upcoming anniversary

2019-05-04 17:44 - Gabi Zietsman
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200 years ago, there were no cars or phones in South Africa.
2 000 years ago, there were no guns or oceanic boats and pastoralists were gradually moving into the eastern and northern portions of the country.
20 000 years ago, the only humans here were the Khoikhoi and the San people.
200 000 years ago, the earliest modern humans were living in East Africa – and perhaps elsewhere – as we know from the fossils of Hadar and Kibish in Ethiopia.
2 million years ago, the genus Homo had just arisen.
20 million years ago, the common ancestor of the orangutan and the African apes lived as one of the smartest creatures that inhabited the planet at the time.
200 million years ago, there were no mammals as dinosaurs and other primitive reptiles had their heyday.
2 billion years ago, there were only single-cell life forms and they had evolved exceptionally slowly for about the same duration before that period.
20 billion years ago, the earth and the universe as we know it simply didn’t exist.

So if you are considering whether 20 years is a long time, the answer is – it’s all relative.

- Derek Hanekom, Minister of Tourism

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On 2 December, the Cradle of Humankind will be celebrating its 20th anniversary of being inscribed as a World Heritage Site – one of the first three to gain this honour in our beautiful South Africa. Today, we are home to ten of these sites of outstanding universal value.

The Cradle is where we as South Africans are privileged to tell the story of the origins of humanity – a story that doesn’t just belong to us but to all the people of the world.

READ: #SAHeritage: Connect with your roots on the new Cradle of Human Culture Route in the Western Cape

Mrs Ples and Little Foot – invaluable specimens of the genus Australopithecus Africanus and Prometheus – were the crowning jewels of the site’s collection when it was inscribed, but since then more specimens have been discovered on the site, including the discovery of two new human ancestors – Australopithecus Sediba and Homo Naledi.

But this isn’t the end – there are many more to be unveiled to help connect the dots that is our complex human ancestry.

MORE PICS: Western Cape discovers its own cradle of humankind

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site might be all about evolution, but over its 20-year existence, it has also undergone a process of evolution.

The area is made up of six facets all surrounding its core – the story of stones and bones.

The other themes that make it an attractive tourist destination are Meet and Greet, Wildlife Wonders, Culture and Craft, Wine and Dine and finally Wedding Bells for those who want to celebrate a very human tradition among their predecessors.

“Everyone, everywhere has an interest in where we come from, and what the future might hold for us. A pilgrimage to the Cradle of Humankind must be the best place in the world to contemplate this,” said Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom at the launch of the build-up to the site's festivities at Africa’s Travel Indaba in Durban.

“The story is so profound, that I suspect that it is possible, if you are quiet in the Cradle of Humankind, to be able to hear our ancestors whispering to each other.”

ALSO SEE: 8 Sites in other countries that salute SA

But according to Hanekom it does not exist in isolation – there are important sites in Algeria, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia that help to fill in many parts of the global story.

And even in South Africa, more sites are being developed to amplify our shared history, like the new Cradle of Human Culture Route in the Western Cape, which shifts the story to how our ancestors started to connect to a higher consciousness beyond just surviving in a tough world.

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors – we borrow it from our grandchildren. And we will only have succeeded if we return it to them in better condition than when we found it,” added Hanekom.

“One day we too will be ancestors, so let us do what we must so that our descendants think back on us as worthy and noble ancestors.”

The Cradle of Humankind has been waiting for you for four million years – what are you waiting for?

Africa's Travel and Tourism Indaba took place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in Durban from 2 - 4 May. As Africa's leading trade show, it sees some 7 000 delegates attending from 80 different countries. 

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