“Cradle of Humankind” A World Heritage Site in South Africa

South Africa has long been held to be the original Cradle of Humankind by many archaeologists, anthropologists and scientists over the years. This is due to the profusion of fossilised bones, teeth and other human remains, as well as the remnants of ancient tools and implements that can be found in this part of the continent. In fact, South Africa is home to the world’s most productive site in terms of hominid remains. So acclaimed is this locale that it was named the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in December 1999.

This heritage site is located in Krugersdorp, just outside the metropole of Johannesburg. More specifically, it is in the Sterkfontein valley, and stretches for almost 50 000 hectares (approximately 124 000 acres). The land is now privately owned, but was once the possession of our earliest human ancestors.

The entire Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is made up of several other sites, all of which have produced valuable findings of ancient hominids. Initially, the sites that made up this official landmark were Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs. Six years later, Makapan and Taung were listed as serial sites. These combine to form the South Africa’s Fossil Hominid Sites.

These sites are so valuable to research and the history of our entire species because of several discoveries:

Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site1935 – The first fossils of a being that is believed to be a human ancestor in ape form are found by Robert Broom. This species is known as the Australopithecus africanus and is thought to have lived over 4 million years ago.
1938 – Young Gert Terrblanche is exploring Kromdraai when he discovers bone that turns out to be fragments from an ancient skull. The owner of the skull is found to be a Paranthropus robustus (a being that lived approximately 1.8 million years ago and developed very strong teeth and jaws to survive on the dry vegetation of the time).
1938 – A tooth believed to be from an ancient ape-man is found between Kromdraai and Sterkfontein.
1948 – Robert Broom returns to Swartkrans Cave and finds hominin remains. This group includes all Homo species, Australopithecines and a few other groups of ancient humans.
1954 to mid 1980’s – CK Brain conducts extensive research in many of the sites that make up the World Heritage Site and discovers a plethora of hominid remains.
1966 to present – Phillip Tobias continues to excavate and explore Sterkfontein.
1991 – The Gladysvale site produces its first hominid remains, discovered by Lee Berger.
1994 – Drimolen becomes the latest addition to yield hominid remains (found by André Keyser).
1997 – Two teeth are found at Gondolin by Kevin Kuykendall and Colin Menter.
1997 – Ron Clarke discovers a skeleton that has almost all of its components. This is dubbed “Little Foot” and is believed to have roamed the earth approximately 2.5 million years ago.
2001 – The first human remains are found by Steve Churchill and Lee Berger at Plovers Lake and the very first tools and implements used by ancient man are discovered at Coopers.

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is, for the most part, perched on dolomite rock. This type of material dissolves slightly and gradually in water, which grants it the perfect composition in which to form fossils. This type of material also forms caves more easily. This fact is testified to by the more than 200 caves in the area. The discovery of animals (both modern and extinct), hominids and their implements (such as axes made of stone) have largely been in these caves.

Then, over 30 000 years ago, the African tribes of |Xam and Khoe-San people inhabited the area, followed by the Sotho-Tswana folk in the 1500’s and the Mzilikazi in the 1800’s. Since the arrival of the British colonialists and the Dutch, the area became more and more urban. However, this urbanisation and development has had no negative impact on the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. In fact, it has enabled researchers as well as visitors from all over the world to access the site and learn even more about ancient Africa and its inhabitants, lending it an enormous amount of credence as the true Cradle of Humankind.

To learn more about The World Heritage Site in Maropeng, South Africa, please visit:

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