Cradle of Humankind

1/15/2015

Towards the end of my last visit to South Africa I visited the Cradle of Humankind. I had been hoping to visit this site for a while so I was very excited when some friends suggested we take a day trip there. The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is the world's richest hominin site, home to around 40% of the world's human ancestor fossils. It is located about an hour north of Pretoria. 

The sites two main attractions are the Sterkfontein Caves and the Maponeng Visitor Center.  Tickets for both sites can be purchased individually ( Maropeng R160/Sterkfontein Caves R195) or as a combo ticket for R215 (which is what we did). 

Outside of the Maropeng Visitor Center










First up on our visit was the Sterkfontein Caves.

The Sterkfontein Caves is home to some of the biggest palaeoanthropological finds ever made. During the late 19th and 20th century when the caves were being mined for lime, fossils began to be unearthed which attracted the interest of scientists.  The caves are home to the longest-running continuous palaeoanthropological dig in the world.

Finds made in the Sterkfontien Caves include the discovery of a fossilized early hominin skull (nicknamed Mrs Ples) in 1947, and Little Foot, a complete hominin skeleton discovered in 1997. It is believed that Little Foot, who was barely a meter tall,  could not see over the long grasses that used to cover the area, fell into the 20 meter hole (possibly while running away from a predator) and died.

Our guide who took us through the cave was excellent. He possessed a ton of knowledge about the caves while making the learning fun by throwing in his own jokes throughout the tour. 

I unfortunately did not get any good quality photos of the inside of the cave due to how dark it was in combination with how much moving around we were doing. 


I would describe the tour as moderately-strenuous.  There is a lot of going up and down stairs that will probably leave you a bit out of breath if you're not in pretty good shape. I have a slight fear of walking downstairs (due to a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs earlier in my life) so walking down the steep, dimly lit staircases was a bit nerve wracking for me. There are a few very tight sections, one which is only about a meter in height and width, so I wouldn't recommended the tour if you are extremely claustrophobic. 

 

One of the most fascinating parts of the cave is its underground lake system of which the source is unknown. In 1984 three divers were sent into the lake to try and locate its source.  One of the divers, Pieter Verhulsel, got lost in the passages. His body was discovered in an air chamber a few weeks later and it was determined that he died of hypothermia. Pretty darn creepy.  As a result diving is no longer permitted in the caves and it is still unknown how deep the lake goes.

Apparently the water in the lake is extremely pure, inhabited only by tiny brine shrimp.  We were encouraged to try a sip, however due to my recent unfortunate bought with "natural" water I decided to sit that one out.

They even gave us these super sexy hard hats to wear

Although beautiful, apparently this flower is poisonous
Discovery site of the famous pre-human skull known as “Mrs Ples”

Next up on our trip was the Maropeng Visitor Center which is a few kilometers away from the Sterkfontein Caves. 

We were actually very surprised at how well put together the exhibition at the Maropeng Visitor Centre was. The exhibition begins with a boat ride which take you through what I presume to be different periods of prehistoric earth. Not expecting something like this at all, I felt a little bit like I was at Disneyland. 

One of our favorite attractions was "The Vortex".  It is basically a rotating, lighted cylinder with a walkway going through.  Once inside you feel completely disoriented as if you are walking on a sideways slant. Our inner children had a blast with this. 
The exhibition is full of information, a lot of which is presented in an interactive way. My boyfriend is not a fan of museums and he really enjoyed himself, which is saying a lot. 



The Cradle of Humankind is one of those places that goes on a to-do list but somehow rarely gets checked off. If you get the chance it's definitely worth the drive in order to give you a peek into the origin of humankind. 

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