Roughly an hour's drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria, near the N14 and R563 north of Krugersdorp, the caves are world-famous for their beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations and for their fascinating fossil finds which provide invaluable insight into the origins of modern man. Now also including a superb restaurant, conferencing facilities, excellent access to the caves, walkways, and a boardwalk overlooking the excavation sites, the Sterkfontein Caves have become a truly essential travel destination for any visitor to Gauteng.
Formed 20 to 30 million years ago when dolomite deposits below the surface of the earth started dissolving due to acidic rainwater trickling through the ground, the caves boast positively stunning natural features, especially in the Elephant Chamber and the Milner Hall in which beautiful stalactite formations hang from the ceilings of the caves, sometimes even joining the stalagmites below them.
But it is for their interest to paleoanthropologists that they are most famous. Early hominid fossils have been unearthed in the area dating back to almost 4 million years, making them some of the oldest specimens ever found. It is due to this fact that the area in which the Sterkfontein Caves is situated is called 'the Cradle of Humankind'. The Cradle of Humankind was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Owned by the University of the Witwatersrand (whose archaeologists and palaeontologists have excavated this World Heritage Site for years), the Sterkfontein Caves have yielded numerous hominid and animal fossils, as well as provided priceless information on the fossilisation process, paleobotany (dealing with plant fossils), and landscapes. The Sterkfontein Caves are the site at which two of the world’s most famous paleoanthropological finds were discovered – 'Mrs Ples', a 2.05 million year old Australopithecus africanus skull, and 'Little Foot', an extraordinarily intact Australopithecus skeleton dating back to between 4 and 2.2 million years ago (it is still unclear just how old Little Foot is). One of the highlights of the Sterkfontein Caves (and an absolute must-see) is the scientific exhibition centre that contains a reconstruction of a mined cave (versus a pristine cave), fascinating cave formations and geology, mammal and hominid fossils, early life forms, and much, much more.
Also worth a visit in the Cradle of Humankind area are the Maropeng Visitors Centre, Swartkrans and the absolutely fascinating Wonder Cave in Kromdraai. Archaeological finds in Swartkrans, near the Sterkfontein Caves, include a collection of 270 burnt bones that prove that our ancestors in the area learnt to make fire more than a million years ago.
Tel: 014 577 9000
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