Welcome to the Origins Centre Museum

We are who we are because of who we were

Origins Centre

One Being (2006) by Deborah GlencrossOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Audio Intro to Origins
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Explore the origins of humanity

Origins Centre museum is dedicated to exploring and celebrating the history of modern humankind through ancient and contemporary art. 
Featured artwork: One Being by Deb Glencross

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Introduction to World Map
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Your journey begins

Your journey begins with the origins of humanity, which starts in Africa, and then moves on to the origins of art and human innovation.

An aluminium wire sculpture by Walter Oltmann welcomes you home, to Africa.

Origins Centre Stone Tool display (2006) by Origins CentreOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Audio - Stone Tools
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The origins of technology

Stone tools have been used for millions of years and show how hominin behaviour and cognitive abilities have changed through time.

Early hominin innovation and technological advancement is visible through changing stone tool technology.

Archaic Homo sapiens, Homo heidelbergensis skull casts (2006) by VariousOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

The Origins of Humans

Interactive fossil skull casts are used to show how the hominins have evolved over time. Evidence from around the globe is presented, but the earliest hominins date back over 7 million years in Africa.

replica engraved ostrich eggshell (2021) by Replica by Cedric PoggenpoelOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand and The French Institute of South Africa

Modern human behaviour and culturally modern behaviour
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Modern Humans and Innovation

South Africa has some of the earliest evidence of human cultural expression. Finds such as engraved ostrich eggshell,  engraved ochre and marine shell beads suggest that symbolic expression and other innovative behaviours appeared in Africa 100 000 years ago.

Wartrail panel (2006) by Origins CentreOriginal Source: Origins Centre and the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand

Introduction to southern African rock art
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Southern African painted rock art

The earliest rock art of southern Africa was made by early hunter-gatherers, ancestors of the modern San. The brush-painted, polychrome art was made in rock shelters, and depicts the ritual and spiritual beliefs of the painters - capturing their real and spiritual worlds.

Engraved boulders and Axis Mundi (2006) by Russell ScottOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

The Spirit World of the San

For the San, the indigenous people of southern Africa, the activation of energy and contact with the spirit word is achieved through the communal trance dance.

Featured here is Russell Scott's installation, Axis Mundi. 
In the foreground are original engraved boulders or petroglyphs.

The Rock Engraving Archive (2019) by San and Khoe (Khoi)Original Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Rock Engraving Archive

The Origins Centre with the Rock Art Research Institute has the honour of protecting, conserving and displaying these engraved boulders. They were collected in the 1900s around South Africa. The engravings were made by ancestors of the San and Khoe.

Pecked rock engraving of an eland (2019) by San Hunter-GathererOriginal Source: Origins Centre and the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand

Engraved Eland

Engraved (pecked) juvenile eland
This eland is only 17 cm in height, yet the folds and details of the skin of the eland are perfectly depicted.

Threads of Knowing (2006) by Tamar MasonOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Tamar Mason on the rock art represented in the embroidered panels
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Contemporary art

The museum combines ancient examples of innovation and art, with contemporary art installations as visualisations of the past. 

Featured here are large, intricately embroidered panels, designed by Tamar Mason and made by herself and a collective of 80 craftswomen. The panels illustrate the history of the San in southern Africa.

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Art of Protest

Beautiful, finger-painted rock art from the Makgabeng, Blouberg, Limpopo Province, South Africa. A life size replica of this panel can be seen at Origins Centre.
This protest art was painted by the Bahananwa (Xananwa), during the Maleboch war of 1894.

Double Vision (2006) by Pippa Skotnes and Malcolm PayneOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Introduction to Double Vision
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Double Vision

In this powerful installation, the recorded oral histories of the San and Khoe (specifically the !Kung and |Xam), the indigenous peoples of southern Africa, are told, pictured and felt.

Installation by Pippa Skotnes and Malcolm Payne

The art and culture of Bantu-language speakers
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Art of the Ancestors

The art forms of Bantu-language groups in southern Africa are expressed in various ways and with different mediums.
The displays at Origins Centre show a variety of cultural items, as well as items and art associated with initiation and coming-of-age rituals.

Origins Centre Building (2006) by Origins CentreOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Origins Centre Museum

Origins Centre is situated on the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) campus, in Braamfontein, Johannesburg South Africa.

We invite you to come and experience South African culture, art and hospitality and indulge in Africa's rich heritage.

Credits: Story

The people of southern Africa
Rock Art Research Institute
Wits Archaeology
Gcina Mhlophe


Online exhibition Curator: Tammy Hodgskiss

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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Cradle of Creativity
From ancient African rock art to contemporary brushstrokes
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