In the world of archaeology, one of the most exciting spots on the planet is the Cradle of Humankind. Less than an hour’s drive outside Johannesburg, South Africa, this 180-square-mile complex of limestone caves that is one of the most prolific sources of human fossils in the world. Archaeologists have found the remains of numerous hominins, early humans who are close relatives of modern humans, with some fossils dating back as far as 3.5 million years.
The Cradle of Humankind was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. Its Sterkfontein Cave has produced more than a third of early hominid fossils found before 2010. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of Sterkfontein and view active excavations, with options for brief tours or more in-depth half- and full-day tours led by research scientists. The visitors center there also offers talks on evolution, fossil cast demonstrations, and exhibits about the species of humans found there.
Nearby, the award-winning Maropeng Visitor Centre brings the story of humankind’s evolution to life. It features a gorgeous building designed to replicate an ancient grass-covered burial mound. Visitors move through a sunken marketplace where hundreds of Stone Age tools were found during excavations, then take a multi-sensory boat ride on an underground lake, experiencing the elements coming together in the formation of our planet. After the boat ride, you’ll track the path of life from the single-celled organisms of 4-billion years ago to the variety of life in the 21st century.
The Cradle of Humankind is not the only important dig site in this region. The neighboring Rising Star cave system made international headlines this summer when it was announced that a six-woman international team of scientists conducting research there had discovered a new species of human relative, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1201749616507766&id=155514161131322Homo naledi.
If you tire of all the fossils, go above ground to find modern biological diversity on full display. Nature reserves here are home to cheetahs, elephants, white rhinos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, impalas, waterbucks, jackals, vervet monkeys, hyenas, leopards and more.
Are you ready to explore humanity’s roots? Contact Ujuzi to learn more about archaeological safaris in Africa.