Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site


South Africa has long been held to be the original Cradle of Humankind by many archaeologists, anthropologists and scientists over the years. This is due to the profusion of fossilised bones, teeth and other human remains, as well as the remnants of ancient tools and implements that can be found in this part of the continent. In fact, South Africa is home to the world’s most productive site in terms of hominid remains. So acclaimed is this locale that it was named the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in December 1999.

This heritage site is located in Krugersdorp, just outside the metropole of Johannesburg. More specifically, it is in the Sterkfontein valley, and stretches for almost 50 000 hectares (approximately 124 000 acres). The land is now privately owned, but was once the possession of our earliest human ancestors.

The entire Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is made up of several other sites, all of which have produced valuable findings of ancient hominids. Initially, the sites that made up this official landmark were Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs. Six years later, Makapan and Taung were listed as serial sites. These combine to form the South Africa’s Fossil Hominid Sites.

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site  Maropeng, South Africa.
Image of The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site
Maropeng, South Africa.

These sites are so valuable to research and the history of our entire species because of several discoveries:
1935 – The first fossils of a being that is believed to be a human ancestor in ape form are found by Robert Broom. This species is known as the Australopithecus africanus and is thought to have lived over 4 million years ago.

1938 – Young Gert Terrblanche is exploring Kromdraai when he discovers bone that turns out to be fragments from an ancient skull. The owner of the skull is found to be a Paranthropus robustus (a being that lived approximately 1.8 million years ago and developed very strong teeth and jaws to survive on the dry vegetation of the time).
1938 – A tooth believed to be from an ancient ape-man is found between Kromdraai and Sterkfontein.
1948 – Robert Broom returns to Swartkrans Cave and finds hominin remains. This group includes all Homo species, Australopithecines and a few other groups of ancient humans.
1954 to mid 1980’s – CK Brain conducts extensive research in many of the sites that make up the World Heritage Site and discovers a plethora of hominid remains.
1966 to present – Phillip Tobias continues to excavate and explore Sterkfontein.
1991 – The Gladysvale site produces its first hominid remains, discovered by Lee Berger.
1994 – Drimolen becomes the latest addition to yield hominid remains (found by André Keyser).
1997 – Two teeth are found at Gondolin by Kevin Kuykendall and Colin Menter.
1997 – Ron Clarke discovers a skeleton that has almost all of its components. This is dubbed “Little Foot” and is believed to have roamed the earth approximately 2.5 million years ago.
2001 – The first human remains are found by Steve Churchill and Lee Berger at Plovers Lake and the very first tools and implements used by ancient man are discovered at Coopers.

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is, for the most part, perched on dolomite rock. This type of material dissolves slightly and gradually in water, which grants it the perfect composition in which to form fossils. This type of material also forms caves more easily. This fact is testified to by the more than 200 caves in the area. The discovery of animals (both modern and extinct), hominids and their implements (such as axes made of stone) have largely been in these caves.

Then, over 30 000 years ago, the African tribes of |Xam and Khoe-San people inhabited the area, followed by the Sotho-Tswana folk in the 1500’s and the Mzilikazi in the 1800’s. Since the arrival of the British colonialists and the Dutch, the area became more and more urban. However, this urbanisation and development has had no negative impact on the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. In fact, it has enabled researchers as well as visitors from all over the world to access the site and learn even more about ancient Africa and its inhabitants, lending it an enormous amount of credence as the true Cradle of Humankind.

To learn more about The World Heritage Site in Maropeng, South Africa, please visit:


The Origin of Mankind – Genetics

Africa is widely recognised as being the Cradle of Humankind, the origin of all human life as we know it today. This theory is largely supported by archaeological findings, including the fossilised remains of our earliest ancestors’ bodies and the tools and implements they used in prehistoric Africa.

However, there are other ways of confirming this continent as being the Cradle of Humankind, and one of these is through the genetic history of the African ancestors. There are two parts of the genetic code of mankind that have not been altered by the widely accepted theory of evolutionary development. These are the MITOCHONDRIAL DNA and the Y CHROMOSOME of any human being.

Molécula de ADN 3D (Ádico DesoxirriboNucleico)
Image of Molécula de ADN 3D (Ádico DesoxirriboNucleico)

The evolutionary development of humans, by definition, defines each generation, making each one a little more advanced than the last. These two parts of the genes are those that stay constant, regardless of how the rest of the genetic code modifies itself to meet with environmental and social changes. So, this theory asserts that all humans have received their Mitochondrial DNA from one common woman and that all men have received their Y chromosome from a common man. These two ancestors are nicknamed Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam by scientists in favour of this theory. She is believed to have roamed the earth 160 000 years ago while he followed about 100 000 years later.

The San people that once occupied and traversed much of Southern Africa are, as a society, those who display the qualities of being of the same Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup. Likewise, the Eastern African peoples, called the Sandawe, and the Mbuti people display the same genetic code. This haplogroup is known as L0 to scientists. From this group descended the haplogroups L1, L2 and L3. These groups came from the original Adam and Eve, but branched out to form new human “races”, as we would broadly define them today. These “L” groups are, for the most part, confined to Africa, while the M and N groups, which came from the L3 group, usually refer to the human beings outside of this continent.

All Y haplogroups (except A and B) are referred to as belonging to the macro haplogroup CR. Those adaptations and mutations that characterise this group are believed to have happened before these humans began their exodus from the continent, and their habitation of a wider spread area. The descendents of this group are called the DE macro group. This particular group only exists within the continent of Africa. Of all the haplogroups under the CR group, C displays unique mutations, which differentiates it from the groups D onwards. These unique characteristics are believed to have formed 60 000 years ago, just after the migration out of Africa occurred.

Haplogroup F has some mystery around it, as researchers and anthropologists are not entirely in agreement about whether it originated in North Africa or South Asia. As it is believed to have evolved some 45 000 years ago, its origin has a significant bearing on the migratory patterns in Africa. If it was to have originated in North Africa, this would indicate a second migration out of Africa at that time.

Migration Out Of Africa


According to the scientists who uphold the Recent Origin of Man Theory, some of the L3 haplogroup migrated from East Africa into the nearby East (Asia). This is believed to have occurred some 70 000 years ago. Because only the females of the L3 lineage are found anywhere outside of the African continent, it is believed that it was a very small population that actually participated in the migration. In fact, only about 150 humans, of the total population of up to 5000 in ancient Africa, are thought to have left Africa and moved to Asia.

Other researchers believe that there were two migrations at this time. One involved haplogroup M, who crossed the Red Sea (which was much shallower and narrower then) and followed the coast all the way to India. Evidence of this course is believed to have been lost when the sea levels rose during the Halocene era. The other group, haplogroup N, are believed to have followed the Nile River until they crossed Sinai into Asia. Some of the members of this haplogroup proceeded into Europe, while others stayed in various areas of Asia. One of the reasons for believing this is that haplogroup N is predominant in Europe, while the M group is completely absent there. Both are very rarely found in Africa. This may, however, also be due to genetic mutations.


Once these groups had spread into Asia, they continued to migrate to all corners of the earth. By 50 000 years ago, humans had moved into the southern areas of Asia. 10 000 years later, they had crossed the oceans and begun occupying Australia. It took another 10 000 years to inhabit East Asia. The Africans that had gone into India are still found in Pakistan and India. However, they have mutated to such an extent that this particular region experiences major diversity in this haplogroup, of which the Indian population makes up about 60%.

Some of those of the M haplogroup are Andamanese, having come from the Asian inhabitants of ancient times, according to some scholars. This proves that those migrants that took the coastal route to India proceeded right through to Thailand and on to Papua New Guinea along the shore. The dark skin colour of these modern men is one of the identifying traits that remain in the genetic codes of these humans from ancient times.

While those scientists that have researched and followed this theory present some solid evidence, there are many researchers who hold very different opinions. In their continued research, scientists and anthropologists try to weigh up the DNA evidence (of which there are limited resources) with fossilised findings of ancient man and his implements. Each puzzle piece is carefully considered and placed within a much larger picture in the ongoing attempt to piece together the complex mosaic that is the origin of humankind

Image of migration of early man over the world
Migration of early man over the world

For more information, please view:

Africa – Early Homo Sapiens

The term homo sapien refers to a human being in relatively the same form as we are today (i.e. not in an ape-like or similarly undeveloped form). Many anthropologists and scientists adamantly believe that Africa is the Cradle of Humankind, the origin of human life as we know it. This would necessarily imply that it is on this vast and varied land that the first Homo sapiens lived, farmed, hunted and settled to form the civilisations that predated ours.

It is believed that the predecessors to Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, lived in prehistoric Africa approximately 400 000 years ago. During the Middle Pleistocene era, these Homo erectus beings are believed to have evolved into Homo sapiens. By this time, however, the Homo erectus had moved all around and out of the continent. So, the Homo sapiens likewise moved around and eventually replaced all Homo erectus beings. This is in conflict with some of the polygenism theories that propose that mankind evolved in different areas, independently of one another, rather than in one area, followed by a dispersal.

Photo of Lucy's Skeleton on display
Photo of Lucy’s Skeleton on display

Fossilised findings have confirmed these hypotheses, although gaps continue to plague researchers to this day. In Ethiopia’s Middle Awash, a homo sapien idaltu fossil was found and dated to 160 000 years ago. Anatomically, it resembles modern man quite accurately, although being termed a sub-species. More modern remains have been found a cave in Israel (Qafzeh), which are dated to 100 000 years ago. Although these remains resemble modern human beings, they are not classified as the same species and both are recognised as being extinct. These valuable findings achieved much in the way of establishing Africa as the Cradle of Humanity.

These early Homo sapiens required tools and implements with which to hunt, cook, build and live. They constructed these tools out of stone, flint and wood. The remnants of these have provided much insight into the types of materials that were available during that time, the animals they ate and cared for and the farming they accomplished. These all bear testimony to their way of life and level of advancement.

These early African civilisations recorded events, experiences and their daily lives, not with a pen and paper, but through paintings on rock surfaces. These have proved to be most revealing concerning their hunting habits, clothing and so on. Of course, these were artistically significant too, and ancient mankind took pride in their portrayal of life in Africa. This demonstrates the innate desire in man to create and preserve beauty in an art form. This same desire to create led to innovations that are alarmingly similar to the modern equipment we use today. Some of these items are dated to 50 000 years back. The tools they used advanced gradually over time, and were duplicated once perfected in design.

The Homo sapiens that first walked the African continent are believed to be the ancestors of modern man. For this reason, they hold particular interest for us today. As researchers continue to dig for and discover valuable pieces of the endless puzzle that makes up the remains of ancient Africa, it becomes increasingly viable that Africa is, indeed, the Cradle of Humankind.

For more information, please view:


Africa – Origin of Man

The recent African “Origin of Man” theory or Recent African Origin (RAO) model is designed to explain the origin of earliest humans in Africa. This continent is believed to be the Cradle of Humankind, the first point from which humans originated. This is also known as the Recent Single-Origin Hypothesis or RSOH, as it places the development of the modern civilisations and, indeed, mankind as originating from one central point.

Image of Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.
Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.

Darwin’s theories in the 1800’s were the original basis for this belief. He hypothesised that all modern life is merely an evolution of an extinct version of the same type of animal and in the same region it had once occupied. Because Charles Darwin believed that all human beings were merely descendents of a prehistoric and extinct ape, this placed the origin of man in the same area as the original site of the apes; i.e. Africa. This theory was supported half a century later by fossils and remains of an ancient hominid civilisation and their implements. These were found in Africa. This was the theory of MONOGENISM.

Image of a Sketch Of Charles Darwin
Sketch Of Charles Darwin

However, in more recent times, DNA evidence as well as anthropological findings have worked together to further add to Darwin’s original ideas. The first human beings are believed to have replaced Neanderthals approximately 150 000 years ago, having been the earliest ancestors of humans on earth. This means that, according to this popular theory, all other mankind on earth originated, at some time in human history, from Africa.

Most scientists believe that the Cradle of Mankind is in East Africa. This is largely because of Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania archaeological and fossilised remains that have been found in significant sites in this part of the vast continent. These include the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and Koobi Fora in Kenya.

The 1800’s saw the input of different researchers and anthropologists and thus was born an opposing theory called POLYGENISM. This proposed that the human race is made up of smaller civilisations that developed independently of one another from prehistoric hominids. This theory petered out by the mid 1900’s, although some scientists still hold firm to this conviction.

Major advances were made when, in the late 20th century, technology was developed that could date the migration of man around and out of Africa. Then, in 2000, further developments and testing could trace the mtDNA sequence of Mungo Man – an Australian predecessor of human beings, according to researchers and anthropologists.

There remain many questions and doubts regarding these and other theories and their reliability. Scientific research and archaeological findings present much fascinating evidence, but contradictions, gaps and lack of substantial bases cast doubt. However, most scientists still believe Africa to be the origin of man and the true Cradle of Humankind.

For more information, please view: