The JIAS group outside Maropeng, the visitor’s centre at the Cradle of Humankind. On 18 May, seven 2018 JIAS Writing Fellows visited the Cradle of Humankind, the World Heritage Site north west of Johannesburg in Gauteng province.

This excursion has become an annual event. This year, it was led by Dr Ian McKay of the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University.

The group first took a guided tour of the Sterkfontein Caves, and then returned to the visitor’s centre, Maropeng, where they explored the museum and other features. Following lunch at the Centre, the group returned to Johannesburg.

Layers of history

Following the visit, Hsuan Chou commented as follows:

‘While a mere hour away from Johannesburg, the Sterkfontein Caves are quite otherworldly. Descending into the caves is like walking through layers of history, with each stratum containing its own unique stories.

‘The approach to the cave entrance was marked with plaques highlighting and explaining the life forms found in the area. There was one about the famous ‘Mrs Ples’, Australopithecus africanus, who may have been male or female.

And, of course, there was ‘Little Foot’, 3.6 million years old, and the most complete fossil of Australopithecus ever discovered to date.

‘What impressed me the most was the imagination required to understand what life was like for those who came before us.

‘We were fortunate to be accompanied by Dr McKay, who described the challenges of archaeological digs in the cave, where body size really matters (slim and small are preferred).

‘The day ended with animated debates about the origins of mankind: evolution, or the creation of a higher being?’