‘The Cradle of Humankind Tour’, held in the second week of August, has been a fixture on the Eunice calendar, for the past 10 years. Eleven girls came on our first trip, and since then, this number has grown between 40 and 60.
On the first day we visit the Wits Palaeontology Department where we have an introductory lecture on evolutionary theory, visit their museum (‘The James Kitching Gallery’), their fossil extraction laboratory, and their unique fossil storage facility. The afternoon is spent on a guided tour of the nearby Origins Centre. While the Palaeontology Department’s museum focuses on the evolution of the tetrapods (four-legged vertebrates), the Origins Centre focuses on: evolution of the Hominidae (the family of bipedal apes, to which we human beings belong), stone tools, the earliest evidence of artistry and symbolic thinking, the people of the world ‘out of Africa’, Bushman culture, and the colonisation of South Africa by the Bantu and Europeans.
On the second day we visit Sterkfontein in the morning and Maropeng in the afternoon. At Sterkfontein we see the most wonderful display illustrating the evolution of life on our planet, and the formation of limestone caves. These limestone caves have been the richest source of hominid fossils. Thanks to a magical, guided tour through the Sterkfontein Caves, we see where Mrs Ples and Little Foot (Australopithecus africanus) were discovered. Maropeng is another world-class museum where we learn about the creation of the earth, continental drift, and what our species had to undergo in order to become modern humans. We also walk and evolutionary timeline and see a specialist display of fossils, which is different every time. Also included are awe-inspiring displays of life-size models of all the ancestral hominids.
On the last day we return to the Cradle to spend the day at Drimolen Cave, which is not open to the public but can be viewed by appointment. Drimolen is famous for the discovery of a pair of vegetarian hominids (Paranthropus robustus). Here, specialist PhD students and Professors take us into the mouth of the cave to discuss its formation and excavation, including what fossils have been found there. Thereafter we are told about the effect that stone tools had on our evolution, and we end with a lecture on the evolution of the hominids, in which all the information of the previous days is neatly placed on one timeline.
Why is this activity special at Eunice?
The Cradle of Humankind Tour covers the entire Grade 10 to 12 Life Sciences syllabi on evolution. It is therefore invaluable for Life Sciences students, and fascinating and life-changing for those not studying Life Sciences. All Eunice girls, who join the tour have to bring a hard-covered exercise book and pen to take notes on the plethora of captivating topics that are addressed throughout the three days.
It is a rare privilege to experience what our girls are exposed to; we have to book a year in advance because these sites are so popular amongst local and, especially, international palaeo-tourists. Most Gautengers, let alone South Africans, never get exposed to this, even though it is right on their doorstep.
Mr Cassar described it as “a world-class educational experience”, and found that the balance between intense learning and relaxation over meals was “perfect”.
Various parents have attended the tour, and one, Mrs Jackie Ramsey (a Science teacher in Colesberg) came along no less than three times. On her first tour she was sceptical, but at the end of it, she wrote that it had been a life-changing experience – and then came twice more!
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