The Cradle of Humankind

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Northwest of Johannesburg lies an area of limestone hills, The Cradle of Humankind, riddled with caves with concealed entrances that over time trapped many animals and early hominid species; the caves proved perfect at not only trapping them, but also preserving their bones as fossils and it’s through these fossils that we’ve been able to trace the development from our common ancestor with the apes through to Homo Sapiens. A huge proportion of all early hominid fossils excavated are in this area, hence its UNESCO World Heritage Site desgination. The main visitor centre at Maropeng isn’t amazing, but does give a bit of an overview of the development of hominid species, and why this region is so important to that understanding. Of much more interest is Sterkfontein Cave. “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot”, two of the most famous fossils (along with over a third of all early hominid fossil discoveries to-date), were found here and it’s the site of the longest continuously running fossil excavations in the world. Exploring the caves with a guide is interesting both from an anthropological point of view, and simply because the caverns, pools, stalactites and stalagmites are beautiful to see. The tour takes around an hour, there are quite a few steps to climb and one or two narrow, low pinch-points to squeeze through.

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