The Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage Site located about 50 km (45 minutes drive) northwest of Johannesburg South Africa in the Gauteng Province. It was first named by UNESCO in 1999 and occupies about 47 000 hectares of land mostly privately owned. It contains a complex of a strip of a dozen dolomitic limestone caves, including the Sterkfontein Caves where the 2.3 million-year-old fossil (Australopithecus africanus, nicknamed “Mrs Ples”) was found in 1947 by Dr Robert Broom and John Robinson.
The Sterkfontein Caves are located within the Isaac Edwin Stegmann Reserve and was donated to the University of Witwatersrand by the Stegmann Family, which was mainly responsible for the excavation of this World Heritage Site. A section of the caves is open to the public and there is a gravel platform from where you can view the excavation site. You will also find a tea-room and small museum where information and significant findings are displayed. There are many things to enjoy whether you are a tourist, local or overseas, or a school group wanting to learn more.
The dolomite in which the caves formed, started out as coral reefs growing in a shallow sea about 2.3 billion years ago. As the reefs died, they were transformed into limestone which were much later converted into dolomite. At least 7 of the 12 sites have yielded hominid remains. Together these caves have produced over 850 hominid fossil remains. To date it represents one of the world’s richest concentrations of fossil hominid sites. These sites provide us with a window into the past, a time when our earliest ancestors lived.
Other caves include Swartkrans about 1.5 km north west of the Sterkfontein Caves. The oldest controlled use of fire was discovered here and dated back to over 1 million years ago! The roof of the Plover’s Lake located north east of Sterkfonein Caves disintegrated due to erosion and faunal remains were discovered including antelope and extinct Zebra.
Kromdraai is 1.5 km north of the Sterkfontein caves and current excavations are being carried out. The Wonder Cave chamber has a volume on 46 000 m and is about 2.2 million years old. It contains drip stone formations just like in the Cango Caves. Bolt’s Farm is 2.5 km south west of Sterkfontein and discoveries from this site include fossil elephant, pig and antelope.
Coopers is 1.25 km from Sterkfonein and became the third South African cave to yield hominid fossil when a single ape-man molar tooth was found in 1938. Gladysvale includes three underground caves and it yielded a wolf skeleton as well as the skull of a giant hyena. Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand discovered the first hominid specimens from here in 1991 which makes this the first new early hominid site discovered in South Africa in 48 years. Discoveries were also made at Hassgat and Gondolin.
This is a great place where you can escape to for a holiday or just a day trip. Enjoy a lovely day out or the magnificent experience of staying over for a few days.
I was born in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa and grew up in Vereeniging. The first time I left home was in 2002 to go to England on a working holiday. Met my husband halfway around the world, got married in South Africa and now have 2 beautiful children. One boy and one girl... Started writing down recipes I grew up with when I was living in England and love sharing them with others.