The ancient history of South Africa allows one to climb the most ancient rocks on earth, walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs, and discover the very emergence of humankind.

Did you know?

The search for the roots of human existence is focused in South Africa.

South Africa's ancient history is better preserved than that of many other countries.

As the earth cooled around four billion years ago, so the first rocks were formed that laid the foundation for South Africa's ancient history. Amongst the oldest are found along the Greenstone Belt stretching from northern KwaZulu-Natal to the Soutpansberg Mountains in Limpopo Province.

Two billion years ago a massive meteorite slammed into what is now the Vredefort Dome, a World Heritage Site near the Free State town of Parys. 

That was not the end of the cataclysmic ancient history of South Africa.

Much of the country lay under an inland sea on the super-continent of Gondwana until its plates first collided, then tore apart into Africa, South America, Australia and Antarctica some 400-million years ago. The effects of this can still be seen along the serrated, mountainous coastline of the Western Cape.

It would be another 200 million years before dinosaurs appeared, leaving magnificent fossil records in the rocks of the Karoo. They disappeared in one of the great extinctions, opening the way for the ascendancy of humans.

More than three million years ago hominids such as Australopithecus roamed southern Africa. Now the search for the roots of human existence is focused on the cave system beneath the Sterkfontein Valley, which is part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg.

Another ancient people, known as strandlopers, left traces of their way of life in caves and middens as they scoured the coastline for shellfish from Langebaan in the Western Cape to Border Cave in KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa's indigenous San people, from their earliest beginnings, have endowed the nation with their world-famous collection of rock art, which can be viewed in most provinces as an indelible record of early South African historical information.