The Origins of Life?

“When we lived in Cape Town, I never went up Table Mountain.  I went up Table Mountain for the first time, only after we’d moved from Cape Town to Benoni.  A couple of years later, we were visiting your Gran on a Cape Town holiday – and that’s the first time I took the cableway and went up the mountain”.

Mom was trying to make a point.

“We don’t appreciate what we have – until we no longer have it”, she said.  She lived in the shadow of that mountain for years… but only visited it (and appreciated the breathtaking view) once she had relocated to another city.  My mom also believes that many (or even most) people who live in beautiful places… have become used to the mountains… the sea… the rivers… the wildlife… and don’t appreciate them as they should.

And perhaps she’s right.  The human way is to adapt… and to “get used to” our circumstances (whether good or bad).

Yesterday – we decided to take a trip to the Cradle of Humankind… right here, in good ol’ South Africa… an hour’s drive from our home in Johannesburg (where, for the past 10 days, I have been struggling to adapt.  After being on the road for 6 wonderful weeks, it irks me to be stuck in the big, messy house again).

So – I have been trying to think of ways to view Joburg through different eyes… like a tourist.  I’ve been working on a plan to appreciate Joburg – and everything Joburg has to offer – for the next couple of months (while we’re stuck here, finishing the movie and purging our stuff and renting out the house)…

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can either sit at home and grumble (and I have done exactly that!)… or – we can get out the house and have fun.

So… yesterday… after picking up some freshly baked yummies at Fournos bakery, we drove through to Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind.  I have never been to Maropeng – which is a bit embarrassing to admit (kinda the same as Mom not going up Table Mountain).

Partly because the inner good-Christian-girl… that I was taught and trained to be for all those years… rejects that idea that we evolved from short, dodgy looking folk with lots of hair, too-big-hands… and ape-like features.

The remains of one of those said early-ancestors was dug up here in 1947.  They’ve nicknamed this particular ancestor Mrs. Ples.

As Wikipedia says:  Mrs. Ples is the popular nickname for the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus specimen ever found in South Africa. Many fossils of this species, which are considered to be the distant relatives of all humankind, have been found in the Sterkfontein area, in what has been designated the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

Here is a picture of Mrs. Ples:


The exhibits at Maropeng certainly present a compelling argument for evolution – and I got the feeling that it might make many of my Christian friends (and my mother) a bit… uncomfortable.  Apart from the photos… the displays… and the explanations… visitors could also view the “Real Deal” fossils themselves – kept in boxes with thick glass in a separate, secure room.

Mrs Ples wasn’t on display.  But there were lots of photos… and lots of realistic looking copies of the bones on display for everyone to see, touch and discuss.

There was a brief argument between Nick and I… with him saying “Fossils are bones” – and me saying “Rock!  Fossils are rock!”…




“Rock!”… of course – we were both sorta right.  Fossils are bones which have become rock.

Here’s some photos (lifted from the web – because we left the camera’s memory card at home by mistake)…

Maropeng:  the tour - starting with an underground river-ride... starts under this mound.

Maropeng: the tour – starting with an underground river-ride… begins under this mound.

One of the many interactive displays...

One of the many interactive displays…

Lots of interesting experiments for kids to try...

Lots of interesting experiments for kids to try…

More displays & detailed explanations....

More displays & detailed explanations….

The kids loved Maropeng… in fact, I’d strongly recommend it as a great family outing for kids.  The tour started off with a “ride down an underground river”… in one of those round boats ala Disney.  The kids have never been on a ride like that… so they were very excited.  The journey took us through ice caves… a snow storm… past fiery volcanoes… and when we disembarked, we were in the “museum” section of Maropeng… with loads of interactive displays, bones, models and information beautifully presented.

All of us enjoyed the tour and the museum.

The parts that sucked?  The ridiculously (embarrassingly) inflated prices… designed to milk international tourists.  R175 per person for a crappy buffet at the restaurant?  No thank-you!  And the curio shop was selling earrings for R195 that I get from Rosebank Rooftop for R40.  I must admit, I was more than a bit irritated by the poor service… the bad food… and the inflated prices – BUT – the tour and the museum were definitely worth it.


Afterwards, we went for a (far better priced) late lunch at Pappachinos.  The kids climbed on jungle gyms while Nick and I discussed how we felt about Maropeng.

I was in a questioning, thoughtful mood.  But then again, I am a Questioner – and not a “Knower” by nature.  I’m not one of those people who HAS TO “know” The Answers.  For me… questioning involves a journey – and “knowing” involves a destination… (and I’m more a Journey kind of person).

I’m just as open to the idea of evolution as I am to the idea of God.  I don’t think they need be mutually exclusive.  I’m comfortable enough (with Maropeng) to say:  “Hmmm, yes… that definitely makes a lot of sense.  I am open to these ideas…” – but, at the same time, I’m not an absolutist.

Then again, there’s really not much that I am absolutist about.  Maybe a few things:  the earth is round.  The universe is huge.  And I believe in love.

The scientists who study these kinds of things aren’t absolutists either.  There’s still a fair amount of debate surrounding Mrs. Ples… with different experts believing different things.  Nobody can be 100% certain about Mrs. Ples.  And even understanding the process of evolution is – I believe – a journey of discovery… a lot of different people adding teeny pieces to a giant jigsaw puzzle.  Some of the pieces fit perfectly.  Some of the pieces have been squished into spaces where they don’t really fit… and there are still a number of holes.  Nobody sees or understands the picture – fully.   Nobody can claim to have ALL the answers.

Perhaps the same can be said about the search for God?

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2 thoughts on “The Origins of Life?

  1. Im a ‘conclusion’ person…I like to come to a conclusion. People may disagree with my conclusion and have a difference of opinion, thats fine…but I am content with mine. I dont like question marks forever hanging over my head. I want to find reasonable answers which I can accept and live with…. for the most part I believe I have. The answers I dont have…I will sort by priority. There are some things I dont need to know.

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