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HHave you ever wondered where we, human beings, came from? What led to this evolutionary revolution on Planet Earth? All of the answers can be found in one place: the Cradle of Humankind.
The Cradle of Humankind is one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa. Here the landscape is dotted with subterranean limestone caves that have turned up a rich fossil record for human evolutionary studies. These findings have led to the “Out of Africa” theory, estimating that most human ancestors originated from one general spot…Africa.
The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site lies about 50km north-west of Johannesburg, an area of rolling grassland, rocky outcrops and river courses typical of this land before it was overtaken by urban sprawl.
It’s here where you get to see history in the flesh, or should we say bone. Tens of thousands of visitors from across the world come here to see first-hand the fossil record that lies in the network of limestone caves beneath the surface.
EExplore the Sterkfontein Caves, Swartkrans and Kromdraai, among other fossil sites, and discover the story of what the world was like when our human ancestors were evolving some two to three million years ago.
AAt the Sterkfontein Caves alone, the remains of more than 500 Hominids (the Hominid Family includes modern-day humans and their direct ancestors) have been uncovered. This not only led to the area being declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 but has also helped to prove the “Out of Africa” theory, which is that humans and their ancestors evolved in Africa and then spread out to the rest of the world over time.
Fossils were first unearthed here in the 1890s when the caves were blasted open for lime needed for the extraction of gold that was discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1886.
But it was only from the 1930s that serious scientific work started to take place.
One of the first major discoveries here was that of “Mrs Ples”, a pre-human skull dating back more than two million years (Australopithecus Africanus), which was unearthed by Professor Robert Broom and his assistant, John Robinson, in 1947.
Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng
TThe skull was originally classified as Plesianthropus Transvaalensis (hence the name) and was an adult version of the same species as the Taung Child – a fossilised skull of a child about three years old, which was found at the Taung limeworks in what is now the North West province, and identified by Professor Raymond Dart in 1924.
Although smaller than us, Australopithecus Africanus is regarded as one of our early ancestors because it walked upright. In 1997, a complete hominid skeleton called “Little Foot”, also found in the Sterkfontein Caves, was introduced to the world and is still in the process of being described.
In 2005, two more areas of significance were added to this World Heritage Site, bringing the number of official fossil sites in the Cradle of Humankind to 13. These were Makapan (in Limpopo) and Taung (in the North West province).
Together all these areas are now known as the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs, recognised by UNESCO for their significance in human evolutionary studies.
IIf you are at all interested in discovering your ancient history as a human being then you'll find a small but good exhibition centre at the Sterkfontein Caves and a much larger, more interactive one at Maropeng.
Aside from a visit to the Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng, the official visitor centre of the Cradle of Humankind, or “the Cradle” as it is locally known, is also a playground for the people of Gauteng, with a range of facilities and activities, including loads of accommodation choices, restaurants, coffee shops, conference centres, cycle tracks, horse trails and hot air ballooning.
National Geographic Through The Lens with Lee Berger
Lee Berger is currently one of the most sought after paleoanthropologists as well as a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. He is a professor of Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science in the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Professor Lee Berger has made what has been hailed as the most important archaeological discoveries in recent history—two new species of human ancestors. Guided by a pair of local cavers, Berger discovered ancient fossils deep inside the Rising Star cave. There, 30 meters underground in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site, Berger’s team uncovered more than 1,550 fossil elements, representing an unprecedented 15 individuals. He named the new species Homo naledi.
“We’ve found a most remarkable creature,” says Berger. “This new discovery is the single largest fossil hominin find in Africa to date. It shakes up our understanding of the human family tree and has the potential to transform understanding of human evolution.”
Lee has been named of the Times Most Influential People.
Marina Appelbaum: Nikos and Old Ducky French Cafe
South Africa is a marvel. Not only does the country boast warm and welcoming people, but it has also an array of culinary offerings enough to cater to any palate and feast. We continue with our celebration of South Africa’s women in the tourism and hospitality sector and this time we catch up with foodie, Marina Appelbaum Marina Appelbaum grew up in the kitchen of the iconic Three Sisters Cafe in Hillbrow which her mother ran for 28 years, with a family legacy like hers it is unsurprising that she is the owner of two thriving eateries - Nikos and The Old Ducky French Café in Pineslopes in Fourways, Johannesburg.
Tour Soweto in Gauteng: experience vibrant township life and the spirit not even apartheid could crush in the south of Johannesburg
Take a tour of Soweto, Johannesburg’s vibrant city-within-a-city – apart from learning the history of the struggle against apartheid, you can immerse yourself in a modern urban vibe with lots to do.
Soweto Bicycle Tours: see the famed suburbs on two wheels
Soweto Bicycle Tours let you explore South Africa’s most famous township’s streets with a qualified guide, taking in historical sites like the former homes of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu.
South African architectural tours: explore the urban design that built a nation
South African urban architectural design tours introduce visitors to the eclectic array of styles and influences behind the country’s most iconic buildings.
South African cultural museums: rich traditions and history all over
South Africans are a diverse mix of peoples from Africa, Europe, Asia and elsewhere, and the many museums scattered around the country preserve rich histories, heritages and cultural traditions.
Historic places of worship in South Africa: cathedrals, churches, mosques, synagogues and temples catering to religious diversity
South Africa is a country of rich religious diversity, protected by the Constitution, so explore sacred architecture and spiritual traditions at our many historic places of worship.
A showcase of African art – Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg
Wits Art Museum – part of the University of the Witwatersrand – houses an African art collection that was started in the 1920s and includes masks, photographs, paintings and more.
The Swazi people
The Swazi people, part of the Nguni tribe, originated from east-central Africa in the late 15th century and settled in the area known as Swaziland.
South Africa on social media