Cradle of Humankind
Visitors to Sterkfontein Caves must please wear comfortable shoes and leave handbags and other luggage behind. There are a number of tight spots and pathways to negotiate in the caves and it is not advisable to do the tour if you are claustrophobic. It is also not advisable for visitors who suffer from acute asthma or chest problems to do the tour, as the entry and exit requires climbing up and down stairways.
The Sterkfontein Caves were discovered in 1896 by an Italian gold prospector and are now regarded as one of the world’s most important archeological sites. The caves lie in the Sterkfontein valley which, together with the nearby sites of Swartkrans, Drimolen and Kromdraai, make up the “Cradle of Humankind” World Heritage Site. Dr Robert Broom of the Transvaal Museum (Museum of Natural History) began excavations at the cave in 1936 and in 1947 discovered a well-preserved complete skull of a species of early man known as Plesianthropus Transvaalensis. This later became known as the famous “Mrs Ples”.
Your tour will start at the newly opened 260m² exhibition. This scientific exhibition consists of four large show cases which include life like models of hominids, a sabre tooth cat, a reconstruction of a mined cave vs. a pristine cave, cave formations and geologies, early life forms, fossils in general (mammals and homo), specific finds (like Mrs. Ples, Taung Child, Little Foot), details of fossilization, paleo botany and landscapes…
From there you will make your way up to the limekilns, past the sundial and then underground into the depths of the caves. Beneath the dust of millions of years you’ll see for yourself the resting place of some of the most important fossils ever found and you’ll hear the magnitude of their significance to the world! After proceeding over the walkways to view the excavation which was Mrs. Ples’s final resting place, the trip will continue past the fossil prep where scientists continue to investigate the clues to our past.
About 10 km away from the Sterkfontein Caves lies the world class visitor facility of MAROPENG, which opened to the public in December 2005. The focal point is the Tumulus building, designed to look like an ancient burial mound from the front. The architecture is symbolic of the journey through the evolution of life that is presented in the visitor attraction and upon exiting after the tour, one looks back on a very modern structure. Maropeng also offers restaurants and a market place.
The Tumulus contains a vast underground visitor attraction which tells the story of the Cradle of Humankind and brings to life the history of humankind in entertaining, educative and interactive ways. Within the visitor attraction lies an exciting 4-billion-year journey on an underground lake, through the elemental forces – water, air, fire and earth – dipping through waterfalls and real icebergs, into the eye of a storm, past erupting volcanoes and through the depths of the earth and emerging at the beginning of the world. From here, the journey continues through an experience highlighting the history of our world and humankind as a species, brought to life via audiovisual techniques, evocative sound effects, theme-park technology and theatrical displays. There are also real fossils on display at the visitor centre. Children will delight in the interactive elements of the exhibits, which encourage them to experience rather than just observe our development as a species and the underlying message of the unity of humankind.
Your visit to the Cradle of Humankind will include a guided tour of Sterkfontein. Maropeng is a self-guided tour.