Covering some 47,000 hectares, the Cradle of Humankind is the name given to the area in which a series of dolomitic caves has in the last fifty years or so produced nearly two-fifths of the world’s hominid fossil discoveries. Given its accessibility and the richness of the finds, it has now arguably overtaken Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge as Africa’s (and therefore the world’s) most important paleontological site.

Sterkfontein Caves

The best-known of the Cradle of Humankind sites are the Sterkfontein Caves, believed to have been inhabited by pre-human primates who lived here up to 3.5 million years ago. They first came to European attention in 1896, when an Italian lime prospector, Gulgimo Martinaglia, stumbled upon them. Martinaglia was only interested in the bat droppings, and promptly stripped them out, thus destroying the caves’ dolomite formation. Archeologist Dr Robert Broom excavated the caves between 1936 and 1951; in 1947, he found the skull of a female hominid (nicknamed “Mrs Ples”) that was over 2.5 million years old. In 1995, another archeologist, Ronald Clarke, found “Little Foot”, the bones of a 3-million-year-old walking hominid, with big toes that functioned like our thumbs do today. In 1998 an Australopithecus skeleton discovered here was the oldest complete specimen known, reckoned to be 3.3 million years old.

Kromdraai Wonder Cave

The only other cave with open public access is the Kromdraai Wonder Cave, located on the edge of the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve to the northeast of Sterkfontein. Also mined for lime in the 1890s, this cave hasn’t revealed any paleontological finds, and the main focus of attention is the extraordinary stalactites, stalagmites and rimstone pools to be found in a huge underground chamber. Once you’ve descended into the cave by a lift, carefully placed lighting and marked trails make the experience theatrical and unashamedly commercial.

 

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

South Africa features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A first-timer's guide to Kruger National Park

A first-timer's guide to Kruger National Park

Kruger, South Africa's first national park, has been part of the national psyche for as long as anyone can remember. The name alone conjures images of crackling…

12 Jul 2018 • Georgia Stephens insert_drive_file Article
Podcast: meet the South African women battling against poaching

Podcast: meet the South African women battling against poaching

A safari without rhinos? That’s the sad future we may be facing. Right now South Africa is home to eighty percent of the world’s rhinos, but poaching is red…

18 Jun 2018 • Rough Guides Editors volume_up Podcast
Exploring Johannesburg: the graffiti capital of Africa

Exploring Johannesburg: the graffiti capital of Africa

Johannesburg is a much-misunderstood city but despite misconceptions it’s one well worth visiting too, with a wealth of museums and galleries, world-class ja…

13 Apr 2018 • Rebecca Hallett local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs