Cradle of Humankind

July 15, 2012 Colin Top 10 Attractions

Located about 50 km from Johannesburg in South Africa, the Cradle of Humankind is a 180 sq mi wide area from which a large number of some of the oldest hominid fossils were found. It was named as a World Heritage Site in 1999 by UNESCO. It is situated in the Gauteng province and consists of a network of limestone caves. Dr. Robert Broom and John T. Robinson found an Australopithecus africanus fossil that was allegedly 2.3-million years old in the Sterkfontein Caves in this region. They named the fossil as “Mrs. Ples” and their find supposedly helped corroborate another discovery made in 1924 by Raymond Dart of the “Taung Child”, the skull of a juvenile Australopithecus africanus specimen.

Some of the fossils that have been discovered in this area are claimed to be as much as 3.5 million years old. The Cradle of Humankind is also home to over 3 dozen fossil-bearing caves. The dolomitic caves in the region have plenty of limestone and sediments like breccias. Many of the hominid remains found in the Cradle of Humankind were encased in a mixture of these two elements. Archeologists working at the site believe that although most fossils have been found only at a few areas in the region, the hominids might have lived in all parts of Africa. They theorize that only these sites might have provided the right conditions for the fossils to be preserved intact. Archeological work at the Cradle of Humankind continues even to this day.

The importance of these finds has made the region a top tourist attraction in South Africa. The Sterkfontein Caves received a face lift in 2005 and now has many walkways and boardwalks built around some of the most prominent sites that yielded famous finds. Apart from having better access to the caves in the region, the place also has a nice restaurant and conferencing facilities for visitors.

An exhibition center showcases models of mined as well as pristine caves and has plenty of information on geology, the process of fossilization and paleo-botany. Exhibits detailing some of the most important finds like “Little Foot”, “Taung Child”, and “Mrs.Ples” are showcased here. The realistic hominid illustrations at the exhibition were created by John Gurche, whose is an award-winning paleoartist. The University of the Witwatersrand owns the Sterkfontein Caves, and its scientists have worked on many of the excavations at the site, giving rise to some of the most famous fossil finds.

There are tours operated at the Sterkfontein Caves which start every half hour, seven days a week. Each tour starts above ground level and then goes underground into the caves. Visitors to the cave are advised to wear comfortable shoes since there are a number of stairs to climb. For the same reason, people with asthma or acute chest related conditions are advised not to do the tour. People who suffer from claustrophobia may also find the caves a little uncomfortable. Visitors can relax and grab a bite at the Sterkfontein Restaurant before or after one of the tours.

 

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  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Cradle of Humankind
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Cradle of Humankind
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Cradle of Humankind
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