A set of touchscreens in the Origins Centre.

Visitors to the Origins Centre established in 2006 on the Wits campus, are in for a technological treat. The journey, which takes visitors back in time, is made possible by several technologically advanced features:

  • Personal audio devices provided to each visitor will deliver an audio guide to the museum’s exhibits in a choice of six languages. This means that individual visitors can tour the museum at their own pace and can also maximise their experience through greater understanding of the displays. (Museum guides are provided for group tours).
  • Touchscreens in most display areas give visitors access to additional information in their preferred language, as well as the depth of detail they require. Each display area has 1 to 2 hours of additional information compiled by experts in the respective fields.
  • E-mail facilities at the touchscreens allow visitors to select files from the information available and to e-mail them to themselves (or anyone else), while visiting the museum. This means that visitors can determine the pace and depth of study during their visit. 
  • Extensive use of audio-visual equipment enhances the displays: each exhibit area has at least one film about the material in that space.

Touchscreen at the Origins Centre

The array and scope of the diverse display areas are guaranteed to be as much of a thrill! Designed to present the vast research undertaken by Wits into the origins of humanity, and also the extensive collection in the care of the Rock Art Research Institute (RARI), the Origins Centre is home to extensive palaeoanthropological, archaeological and genetic evidence that Homo sapiens  – our species – became fully modern here in southern Africa ahead of man’s journey out of Africa to populate the rest of the world. The earliest evidence of what makes us human – art, religion, language and cognitive behaviour – have been found here in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that early South Africans were at the cutting edge of human development. 

Diverse exhibits include displays of the tools made by early humans and their refinement during the evolution of hominids. Interestingly, the first hominid to make tools lived in southern and eastern Africa. These large, early tools, made from 2.6 million years ago, were bulky in form. With the passage of time, they were refined and became much smaller. This trend for implements to become smaller continues today: developers of technology are increasingly able to manipulate the world at microscopic and nano levels.

There are also exhibits dedicated to the rock art of South Africa’s earliest indigenous people. Narratives help visitors to understand and interpret these paintings.

The final exhibit in Origins Centre focuses on how genetic testing can contribute towards understanding our ancestry. Genetic studies on living people have shown that all human beings are related genetically and can trace their roots to a common ancestor who lived in Africa. Also, people living today who have retained in their gene pool some of the oldest genetic lineages are the San and their descendants. Ongoing population genetic research at Wits and the National Health Laboratory Service has facilitated the introduction of genetic ancestry tests offered to the public. Visitors to Origins Centre are welcome to purchase an ancestry test from which they would learn more about some of their ancestral lineages. They can also have their information included in the ever-expanding database.

Today’s advanced technology provides amazing media for communicating information in ways that ensures a personal and therefore memorable experience,” says Francis Gerard, establisher of the Origins Centre. “We have tried to stimulate the senses of our visitors through the use of light and sound in the exhibits and by harnessing the power of technology – not to mention the information-sharing possibilities provided by the worldwide web. The end result is phenomenal: thanks to technology, our visitors truly get a sense of returning to the roots of all humankind."

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