|The Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai
and Environs, known as the Cradle of Humankind, were declared a World
Heritage Site on December 2 1999. The Cradle of Humankind covers an
area of over 47 000 hectares of privately owned land in the north
western corner of Gauteng and is home to over 17 000 residents.
In 2005, two other highly significant sites, Makapan and Taung
were listed as serial sites together with the Cradle of Humankind
World Heritage Site (COH WHS). Together, these are the Fossil Hominid
sites of South Africa.
The area is of outstanding universal value, because it contains
a complex of palaeo-anthropological sites, which have yielded some
of the most valuable evidence, world-wide, of the origins of modern
humans, hence its name Cradle of Humankind.
The declared area is 47 000 hectares and extends approximately
between Oaktree, Hekpoort, Broederstroom and Lanseria in Gauteng.
Most of the site is on dolomite, a rock type which is slightly soluble
in water. This has two major consequences- the formation of caves
and the formation of fossils.
There are currently over 200 caves on the site, with possibly more
to be discovered. There are 13 fossil sites which have been extensively
examined and some have produced fossils of human ancestors and their
relatives. A variety of stone tools used by human ancestors such
as axes and scrapers have also been identified.
The range of other creatures which co-existed in the area included
extinct animals such as short-necked giraffe, giant buffalo, giant
hyaena and several species of saber-toothed cats. Numerous fossils
of extant creatures such as leopards and hartebeest have also been
We know that Australopithecus africanus were present in the Cradle
from about 4-2 million years ago. It is generally thought likely
that these hominids (upright walking "apes"), or close
relatives of them, were human ancestors.
Paranthropus robustus is another hominid whose fossilized remains
have been found, but it is generally considered to be a branch of
the hominid family tree that became extinct, and not a very close
relative of our ancestors. Homo ergaster, present around 1 million
years ago is even more likely to be a direct ancestor than Australopithecus
having a very close resemblance to modern humans Homo sapiens.
In the more modern era the area was occupied by /Xam or similar
Khoe-San people for what some historians believe to be 30 000years
or longer, then by Sotho-Tswana people from the 1500''s or possibly
much earlier who were displaced by Mzilikazi around 1820. There
after Voortrekkers in about the 1840''s and other whites (thereafter)
gradually took possession of the land.
Maropeng is the official visitor centre for the Cradle of Humankind
World Heritage Site.
The Sterkfontein Caves are open every day of the year except Christmas
and Easter. Tours through the cave run every half an hour, with
the first tour leaving at 09h00 and the last tour leaving at 16h00.
These tours last approximately 45 minutes.
Another popular cave which does tours is Wonder Caves.
Both of these venues are suitable for children, but not easily
accessible for the elderly or disabled. Near to Wonder Cave is the
Lion and Rhino Nature Reserve.
Specialised scientist-led trips to Drimolen, Swartkrans and Sterkfontein
can be organised by prior arrangement. Contact: Palaeo-Tours: +27