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:


Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.