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The Cradle of Humankind

The home of our ancestors

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The Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs, known as Cradle of Humankind was declared a World Heritage Site (WHS) together with Robben Island and the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park on December 2nd 1999 in Morocco. It was declared a WHS because of it’s outstanding universal value due to significant palaeo-anthropological and archaeological discoveries made within the twelve sites.

What is a World Heritage Site?

A World Heritage Site is an area that is deemed to have exceptional universal value. It is protected and preserved against threats of changing social and economic conditions and natural decay. The World Heritage Convention, a body established by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation) is responsible for inscribing the chosen site. Once a site has been selected, it is included on the World Heritage site list and is protected for future generations against threats of damage caused by natural and mechanical conditions.

Benefits of Being a World Heritage Site

Being designated as a World Heritage Site brings substantial environmental benefits to the Cradle of Humankind. This recognition underscores the global significance of the area’s unique biodiversity and geological features, ensuring enhanced protection and conservation efforts. It enables access to international expertise and resources for ecological preservation, helping to maintain delicate ecosystems and protect endangered species. This status also encourages sustainable tourism practices, balancing visitor interest with environmental stewardship. The financial and technical support from the World Heritage Fund is instrumental in implementing advanced conservation techniques and promoting environmental education and awareness. Emergency assistance from the fund is crucial for addressing environmental threats swiftly, preserving the site’s natural integrity. The Cradle of Humankind joins other illustrious sites in this regard, like the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, known for their rich biodiversity and ecological significance. These efforts not only safeguard the area’s natural heritage but also contribute to the global mission of preserving Earth’s irreplaceable natural treasures for future generations.

What the Scientists Have Found

The Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site, is renowned for its exceptional paleo-anthropological discoveries, shedding light on early human evolution. This area has yielded over 1,000 hominid fossils, including the famous Australopithecus africanus “Mrs. Ples” and the nearly complete Australopithecus sediba skeleton, “Karabo.” Recent excavations have uncovered a new species, Homo naledi, in the Rising Star Cave system, challenging existing theories about human ancestry. These findings provide critical insights into the physical and cultural development of humankind. The region’s rich fossil record extends beyond human ancestors, including diverse animal species, offering a window into the environmental conditions of our early predecessors. Research in this area continues to evolve, with ongoing excavations and studies contributing to our understanding of human origins. The Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Environment plays a pivotal role in preserving this site and supporting scientific research while ensuring sustainable tourism and community involvement.

 

Overview

Why the Cradle of Humankind?

The Cradle of Humankind is unique in that since 1947, there have been great scientific discoveries, which have been a breakthrough in the search for the origins of humankind. These include a 3,3 million year old ancestor of humankind, stone tools dating back some 2 million years and the world’s most perfect pre-human skull ever found- affectionately known as Mrs Ples.

There are 15 explored sites within the Cradle of Humankind area:

  • Sterkfontein Caves
  • Swartkrans
  • Kromdraai
  • Gondolin
  • Plovers Lake
  • Wondercave
  • Drimolen
  • Haasgat
  • Coopers B
  • Gladysvale
  • Minaars
  • Bolts Farm
  • Makapans Valley
  • Taung fossil site
  • Rising Star Cave

The Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs, known as Cradle of Humankind was declared a World Heritage Site (WHS) together with Robben Island and the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park on December 02nd 1999 in Morocco. It was declared a WHS because of it’s outstanding universal value due to significant palaeo-anthropological and archaeological discoveries made within the twelve sites.

Key Discoveries in the Cradle of Humankind

  • Sterkfontein – Site of the famous “Mrs. Ples,” an Australopithecus africanus skull now estimated to be between 3.4 and 3.7 million years old, challenging earlier dating estimates.
  • Bolt’s Farm – Known for discoveries of microfauna fossils that are more than 4.5 million years old.
  • Swartkrans – Renowned for evidence of the earliest known deliberate use of fire by hominins, dating to around 1.3 million years ago.
  • Coopers B – Site where a face specimen of a robust ape-man was found.
  • Kromdraai – The first specimen of a robust ape-man was discovered here in 1938.
  • Minnaars – Recognized as a potential site for finding hominid fossils.
  • Plover’s Lake – Noted for abundant faunal remains that are around one million years old.
  • Wondercave – Known for ongoing excavations that are yielding interesting fossils.
  • Drimolen – A newer fossil hominid site, with discoveries including 30 specimens of robust ape-men.
  • Gladysvale – Site with findings of hominids, fauna, and plant remains up to 3 million years old.
  • Haasgat – Known for fossils of early forest-dwelling monkeys dating back to around 2.8 million years ago.
  • Gondolin – Over 90,000 fossil specimens have been discovered here since 1979.
  • Makapans Valley – An important site for a wide range of archaeological and paleontological studies, though no specific recent updates are available.
  • Taung – Famous for the Taung Child, an Australopithecus africanus, whose recent analyses suggest its skull and brain development were not as human-like as previously thought.
  • Rising Star Cave – The discovery site of Homo naledi, known for its unique mix of humanlike and primitive features, and recent evidence suggests possible controlled use of fire.

Tourism and a World Heritage Site

Tourism plays a pivotal role in the Cradle of Humankind’s status as a World Heritage Site, attracting both national and international visitors drawn to its rich anthropological and natural heritage. The influx of tourists significantly boosts the local economy, creating job opportunities and fostering economic development in the surrounding communities. In addition to the economic advantages, there is a collective duty shared by the local community, South Africans, and tourists alike to safeguard and cherish this unique site. Visitors are encouraged to engage responsibly with the area by adhering to these guidelines:

  • Respecting the natural environment and keeping the site clean.
  • Following all rules and guidelines at various attractions within the site.
  • Preventing bushfires by avoiding negligent actions.
  • Refraining from collecting or damaging fossils, flora, and fauna.
  • Contributing to the protection of endangered species in the region.
  • Making their visit both educational and enjoyable, while encouraging others to experience and learn from this remarkable site.

These practices ensure that the Cradle of Humankind remains a well-preserved and enlightening destination for future generations, while simultaneously contributing to the local and national economy through sustainable tourism.

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