By Leon Engelbrecht
A R350-million private-public heritage partnership near Krugersdorp has delivered an unexpected pay-off in the form of priceless Stone Age artefacts.
The tools, thought to have been used by our Homo Habilis or Homo Erectus ancestors, are estimated to be between 500 000 and 1,8-million years old.
Maropeng Africa chief executive Rob King said scientists still had to determine the exact age of the implements.
But they will undoubtedly form a part of South Africa's heritage.
The discovery was made a week ago on the site of a new visitors' centre being built in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
University of Witwatersrand archaeologists on Thursday filled three boxes with axes, knives, cleavers and related tools.
Scientists were being shown the progress made on the construction of a market place when the relic hunters spotted the implements in a gravel bed running like a seam through the excavated area.
The seam is about 50cm underground. The area will now be the subject of a proper archaeological dig to find more of the tools, King said.
Ironically, a heritage impact assessment of the site before construction put the likelihood of any archaeological discovery at less than two percent.
"The find was a huge surprise to all of us.
"Had we not excavated here, we would never have found it," King said on Thursday.
The announcement of the find coincided with Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa's renaming of the site as Maropeng.
Translated, it variously means "the place where we once lived" or refers to "the place of origin".
"Today marks yet another chapter to our journey to discover and protect our heritage," said Shilowa. "We are here to rename Mohale's Gate Maropeng.
"While the current generation may not have lived here, we now know that our ancestors not only lived in this area, but once roamed around the various caves now known as the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
"If we want to make sense of where we are going as a nation, and what our future holds, we need to make sense of where we come from.
"We need to make sense of our heritage - hence the name Maropeng."
The visitors' centre is built on 100ha of land donated to the Gauteng government by Standard Bank, about 7km from the Sterkfontein caves. Maropeng Africa, which is sinking R20-million into the project, has been granted a 10 year concession to run the centre.
They also run a facility at Sterkfontein.
The Gauteng government has put R163-million into the venture through Blue IQ, its infrastructure development arm.
The rest of the R350-million has been spent on upgrading existing infrastructure and roads, such as the rebuilding of the R24 route between Sterkfontein and Magaliesburg.
The centre opens to the public from December 2.