The Cradle of Humankind covers 47 000 hectares of predominantly privately held property, mostly in the Gauteng province with a tiny extension into the neighbouring North West province. The site is made up of a series of dolomitic limestone caverns that hold the fossilised remains of prehistoric animals, vegetation, and, most notably, hominids. About 2.3 billion years ago, the dolomite that the caverns are made of began as coral reefs forming in a very shallow sea.
As the reefs died, they were changed into limestone, which was then converted into dolomite through time. After the sea withdrew millions of years later, slightly acidic groundwater began to dissolve calcium carbonate from the dolomite, forming underground caverns. The water table lowered with time, exposing the underground caves to the air. Acidic water percolated through the dolomite, dissolving calcium carbonates from the rock and forming stalactites, stalagmites, and other crystalline structures in the caverns.
Shafts or avens formed between the earth’s surface and the caverns below as a result of continued erosion on the earth’s surface and dolomite disintegration. Animals and hominids fell into the caverns, were stuck, and died. Bones, stones, and plants poured down these shafts into the caves, and animals and hominids fell into the caves, became trapped, and perished. The fossilised bone and plant fragments, together with numerous stones and pebbles, formed a hard mixture known as breccia.
Hominid remains have been discovered at at least seven of the twelve locations. Indeed, these cave sites have produced over 850 hominid fossil remains, making them one of the world’s highest concentrations of fossil hominid harbouring sites to date. The scientific relevance of this location stems from the fact that these sites offer us a glimpse into the past, to a time when our forefathers were evolving and changing. All humans are thought to have originated in Africa, according to scientists.
They claim that the split between the human lineage (Hominidae) and the African apes occurred roughly 5-6 million years ago, based on biochemical data. The study of hominid fossils from African locations allows scientists to learn more about how these hominids have evolved and diversified over time.
Why Is It Called Cradle Of Human
The moniker Cradle of Humankind refers to the fact that the site has yielded a vast number of hominid fossils, some of which are among the earliest ever discovered, dating back as far as 3.5 million years.
What Is Special About The Cradle Of Humankind
The Cradle of Humankind is one of the world’s most important fossil sites because it has produced:
- The first adult Australopithecus, found by Dr Robert Broom at Sterkfontein in 1936.
- A second kind of ape-man found at Kromdraai and named Paranthropus robustus by Broom in 1938.
- The first fossils of a very early human called Telanthropus in 1949 by Broom and John Robinson, associated with Paranthropus robustus fossils at Swartkrans. Telanthropus is now classified as Homo ergaster.
- The first, and so far only, direct association between Homo ergaster (Stw 80) and early Acheulean tools, at Sterkfontein.
- The oldest stone tools (Oldowan) in Southern Africa, at Sterkfontein.
- The only virtually complete Australopithecus skeleton, “Little Foot”.
- The longest sample of Australopithecus africanus fossils (at Sterkfontein).
- The longest sample of Paranthropus robustus fossils (at Swartkrans).
- A great number of cave sites containing fossils of our ancestors, their relatives, and the animals that populated their environment.
The Cradle of Humankind is a paleoanthropological site 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
Best Time To Visit
Best during daylight hours.
General Enquiries: +27 (0)11 085 2481