Explore the Intriguing Findings from the Past in Makapansgat Valley
The Makapansgat Valley in the Limpopo Province of South Africa is teeming with life, as a variety of animals and birds enjoy the plentiful plant and insect life found in this fertile valley. The picturesque Makapansgat Valley is the site where, way back in February 1925, Professor Raymond Dart announced the discovery of the remains of the first “ape-man”. The numerous caves in the mountain-sides of the valley have yielded fossils believed to date back 3.3 million years, as well as Stone Age and Iron Age relics, thereby linking it to the history of South Africa’s renowned Cradle of Humankind.
As is often the case with notable archaeological discoveries, the fossil treasures of Makapansgat Valley were discovered quite by chance. During limestone mining operations in the valley in the 1920s, an abundance of human bones were literally blasted out of a cave. A local teacher, Wilfred Eitzman, recognizing the historical value of these fossils, drew Professor Dart’s attention to them. Dart published an article on Makapansgat Valley, referring to it as an early human occupation site, but it was only in 1947 that he, along with a team of researchers, gave the site their full attention, leading to a number of fascinating discoveries. For example, some of the bones showed evidence of having been burned, raising questions as to whether this had been done on purpose and why. An important discovery was that of a pelvis, which proved that the so-named “Australopithecus africanus” was bipedal – walking on two legs. So far thirty-five hominin species have been discovered, representing around a dozen individuals.
Based on discoveries relating to fauna, researchers believe that 3 million years ago the Makapansgat Valley was, as they put it, a “rich tropical paradise of biodiversity”, but most likely inhabited by hunters and the hunted, so not particularly safe for those that fell into the latter category. Today the valley remains lush and beautiful, and is a great deal safer. Among the local inhabitants of the valley are a variety of primates, including troops of baboons, vervet monkeys and bush babies, referred to in Afrikaans as “nagapies” meaning “little night monkeys” – a apt name seeing as they are more often than not spotted at night. Bird watching in the Makapansgat Valley is very rewarding and the abundant flora and insect life is interesting.
The Limpopo Province of South Africa has an incredible variety of sights and activities to offer visitors and continues to be a popular holiday destination, both for South Africans and visitors beyond the country’s borders. If you should have the opportunity to visit the Limpopo Province, be sure to include a visit to the beautiful Makapansgat Valley.