The Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs, known as Cradle of Humankind was declared a World Heritage Site (WHS) together with Robben Island and the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park on December 02nd 1999 in Morocco. It was declared a WHS because of it’s outstanding universal value due to significant palaeo-anthropological and archaeological discoveries made within the twelve sites.
What is a World Heritage Site?
A World Heritage Site is an area that is deemed to have exceptional universal value. It is protected and preserved against threats of changing social and economic conditions and natural decay. The World Heritage Convention, a body established by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation) is responsible for inscribing the chosen site.
Once a site has been selected, it is included on the World Heritage site list and is protected for future generations against threats of damage caused by natural and mechanical conditions.
Benefits of Being a World Heritage Site
The site receives national and international recognition, and is likely to attract tourists to the area. This has positive implications for job creation and economic growth for both the area and it’s people.
The listed site also has an opportunity of receiving financial assistance from the World Heritage Fund to manage training and technical programmes in the preservation of the area. Other benefits include emergency assistance from the fund, to enable urgent action to repair damage caused by adverse human activity or natural disasters. The most important benefit is that World Heritage Sites are preserved for future generations.
Some of the most famous World Heritage Sites include the Tower of London in England, The Pyramids of Egypt and The Victoria Falls between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Why the Cradle of Humankind?
The Cradle of Humankind is unique in that since 1947, there have been great scientific discoveries, which have been a breakthrough in the search for the origins of humankind. These include a 3,3 million year old ancestor of humankind, stone tools dating back some 2 million years and the world’s most perfect pre-human skull ever found- affectionately known as Mrs Ples.
- Sterkfontein Caves
- Plovers Lake
- Coopers B
- Bolts Farm
Aside from the rich anthropological value of the area, the Cradle of Humankind also boasts game reserves, a Show cave which dates back 2 200 million years ago, and the first Gold mine on the Witwatersrand, conference centres and upmarket lodges. The area is also a rich haven for those with a passion for trout fishing and has restaurants of international standards.
The Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment is responsible for managing the project to conserve and appropriately develop the Cradle of Humankind.
The department has developed and is implementing a public participation plan, which involves all stakeholders, including farm owners and farm workers around the area, landowners and resident associations. A business plan has been formulated which focuses on the first three years of the project and includes the following areas: Inception phase; general administration, marketing and management; integrated environment and conservation management; communications, public awareness; training and tourism development, and visitor facilities.
What the Scientists Have Found
The Sterkfontein Caves are one of the richest and most productive palaeo-anthropological sites in the world. Amongst the most remarkable findings to have been made by numerous world famous scientists within the Cradle of Humankind is the famous Mrs Ples, the first complete Australopithecus skull to be discovered. More recently, “Little Foot”, a 3.3 million-year-old almost complete ape-man skeleton was also discovered in the same caves and is still under excavation.
More than 500 hominid fossils, thousands of animal fossils, over 300 fragments of fossil wood, and over 9000 tone tools-some of them the oldest in Southern Africa have been found in the twelve explored sites within the Cradle of Humankind and more are still being discovered.
Key Discoveries in the Twelve Sites Within the Cradle of Humankind
- STERKFONTEIN – The famous Mrs Ples 2.5 million years old and an almost complete skeleton estimated to be about 3.3 million years old
- BOLT’S FARM – Discoveries of microfauna more than 4.5 million years old
- SWARTKRANS – Earliest known deliberate use of fire around 1.3 million years Ago
- COOPERS B – A face specimen of robust ape-man
- KROMDRAAI – First specimen of robust ape-man found here in 1938
- MINNAARS – Potential site for hominid fossils
- PLOVER’S LAKE – Abundant faunal remains around one million years old
- WONDERCAVE – Current excavations producing interesting fossils
- DRIMOLEN – Newest fossil hominid site to be discovered, 30 specimens of robust ape-man
- GLADYSVALE – Hominids, fauna and plant remains up to 3 million years old
- HAASGAT – Fossils of early forest – dwelling monkeys around 2.8 million years old
- GONDOLIN – 90 000 fossil specimens discovered since 1979
And it is believed that there are many more sites in the area
One of the most important benefits of being a World Heritage Site is the attraction of national and international tourists. The tourist industry will play a significant role in contributing to the local economic growth.
The local community and fellow South Africans have the responsibility of taking initiatives to protect and preserve the World Heritage Site for future generations as well as economic benefits. At the same time, there is an onus on tourists to show appreciation for the importance of the Cradle of Humankind by:
- keeping the World Heritage Site clean,
- following instructions or rules of the places they are visiting,
- avoiding ‘veld’ fires through irresponsible behaviour
- not taking or damaging fossils and any other flora and fauna
- protecting endangered species
- having an entertaining and educational visit and encouraging friends and family to do the same
The Cradle of Humankind has a bi-monthly newsletter called Marapo Speak. If you are interested in receiving a copy, contact us on 014 577 9000.
YOU ARE WELCOMED TO THE CRADLE OF HUMANKIND ENJOY YOUR STAY