Heritage Sites

Cradle of Humankind – A Major Discovery

The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered by many as a vital discovery, revealing much about the history of mankind. Situated chiefly in Gauteng province of South Africa, the Cradle of Humankind is an extensive network of dolomitic limestone caves in which have been found several fossils of plants, animals and hominids. This fascinating heritage site is a popular tourist destination, so join me as we explore the wonders of the Cradle of Humankind.

The site of the Cradle of Humankind extends across 47 000 hectares with some 12 caves. The caves have formed from dolomite which is said to have come from coral reefs which grew some 2.3 billion years ago in a shallow sea covering the land. When these reefs died, they converted into limestone which later transformed into dolomite. Several million years later on it is believed that the sea disappeared and acidic groundwater caused the creation of the caves. Surface erosion as well as the dissolution of dolomite caused shafts to appear between these underground caverns and the surface of the earth. It is said that plants, stones and bone washed into the shafts whilst animals and hominids that fell in were unable to escape and thus died in the caves. Eventually the remains were fossilized and cemented in breccia.

Hominid remains to the number 850 have been discovered in seven of the Cradle of Humankind’s caves. Therefore the site has been dubbed the richest hominid fossil bearer in the world. Scientists see great value in these finds as a window to the past. As such it is commonly believed by scientists that human life originated in Africa. By means of scientific techniques some scientists have stated that the human life split from African apes about 5 – 6 million years back.

The Sterkfontein Caves at the Cradle of Humankind are probably the best known in the network. Situated on the Isaac Edwin Stegmann Reserve the caves are under the care of the University of Witwatersrand. Tourists are invited to explore a section of the caves or examine the excavation site from a platform. The first australopithecine adult was found here in 1936. Then in 1947 scientists discovered a practically complete female Australopithecus africanus skull said to date back to 2.8 million years ago, which they named Mrs. Ples. Fossil remains from Sterkfontein are located at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria as well as at the University of Witwatersrand. The other caves of the Cradle of Humankind are as follows: Swartkrans, Minnaars, Plover’s Lake, Wonder Cave, Kromdraai, Drimolen, Bolt’s Farm, Coopers B, Haasgat, Gladysvale and Gondolin. If you are interested in archeology, the theory of evolution or simply like the idea of exploring a cave, make a stop at the Cradle of Humankind during your travels.