Cradle of Humankind

The Cradle of Humankind, also sometimes referred to as the Sterkfontein Caves, is one of the most influential archaeological sites in the world and a World Heritage Site that is open to the public. The Cradle of Humankind is a long strip of ancient caves that have given a lot of support to theories that humanity had its origins in Africa but they are also treasure troves of fossil evidence.

The Cradle of Humankind consists of about a dozen dolomitic limestone caves over a 420 km2 area that contain the fossilised remains of ancient animals, plants and hominids. The caves were formed millions of years ago from ancient coral reefs. Millions of years of erosion and groundwater created caves that were eventually revealed to the surface. Water washed down bones, stones and plants into the caverns while animals and early hominids probably fell down the caverns and got trapped.

Ms Ples; the most famous old lady in the world

Today the caves that make up the Cradle of Humankind are on various private properties and only the Sterkfontein Caves, the most famous of the caves, is always open the public. Over 850 hominid fossils have been recovered from this cave. The most famous is probably Mrs Ples, the first intact Australopithecus to be found. Recently, the caves also delivered ‘Little Foot’, the most intact skeleton of an ape man that is over 4.17 million years old!

The Sterkfontein Caves are only about an hour from Johannesburg or Pretoria. The area has a large centre devoted to the Cradle of Humankind. There is a restaurant, conference centre facilities and the Maropeng Visitor Centre. Walkways allow visitors access to the caves and the excavation site where people from the University of the Witwatersrand have been excavating the site for 65 years. Tours of the caves and the site are available at certain times of the day.

The Maropeng Visitor Centre tells the story of mankind as it unfolds in the Cradle of Humankind. This storyline is the most widely accepted tale of early man that is generally agreed upon by the experts. There are other theories as well, but the Sterkfontein story is the one that is supported by the most evidence.

The Visitor Centre has world class exhibitions that include lifelike representations of early hominids based on the fossils found. An underground boat ride lets the story unfold before your eyes. Other fossils are also on display along with ancient tools that have been found the in area. Many of the exhibits are interactive, allowing visitors to learn and experience on their own.

While the Sterkfontein Caves are the major site of the Cradle of Humankind, there are 11 other caves on the strip of land that stretches over the Gauteng and Northwest Province. Not all the caves are open to the public. Some are on private property and others are not safe.

The Cradle of Humankind is an exciting destination to learn about the history of humanity and the world. The Maropeng Visitor Centre is the main attraction for most tourists, but the area has a lot of other attractions for those that have the time to explore everything.


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