Visit the Cradle of Humankind – South Africa’s Oldest Historical Site

The Cradle of Humankind is one of the most historically significant places, not only in South Africa but in the entire world. Many local South Africans come to explore the million-year-old cave systems and learn about our early human ancestors. It turns out our ancestors were much smaller and more unique than we previously thought.

The area represents one of the world’s richest fossil sites, and to this day, palaeontologists are astounded by what they continue to learn about human evolution. Take a journey through time and discover what makes us human, and why, in these fascinating ancient sites.

If you’re not from Gauteng, SA Airlines, Mango Airlines, FlySafair, Kulula Airlines offer plenty of cheap flights to Johannesburg.

What is the Cradle of Humankind

The Cradle of Humankind is a region north-west of Johannesburg that’s produced the largest number of human fossils, ever. The fossils date back an astonishing 3.5 million years, reflecting the greatest knowledge that we have of our species.

The entire region, about 47,000 hectares, is comprised of 15 fossil sites and limestone caves. And although the homo sapien species travelled throughout the African continent, it’s home to around 40% of human fossils.

Being known as a site where humankind originates, and now deemed a national heritage site, it’s a popular destination amongst locals and tourists. The Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng are the official visiting sites for the Cradle of Humankind.

Why is the Cradle of Humankind a World Heritage Site?

The area holds 13 excavation sites, all of which need to be protected in order to preserve human history and the knowledge we have of our species.

Experts say that there are still many discoveries that can potentially be made here. Deeming the site a World Heritage Site ensures that these fossils can remain well preserved for later findings.

Fossils can only be preserved in conditions that allow their formation, and that’s why the soil is so special here. The grounds here are made up of limestone and other sediments that support the fossilisation process. 

Excavations are still occurring today, with the recent discovery of Australopithecus sediba fossils. These bones are thought to be a new transitional species between the southern African Ape man, and Homo Erectus.

The Sterkfontein Caves

The Sterkfontein Caves are one of the most famous sites in the cradle of humankind. It boasts close to one-third of the entire collection of human fossils, making it a popular spot for visitors. It’s also the site where the world-famous fossils of Mrs Ples and Little Foot have been found.

The caves began to form close to 20 million years ago and became known as the bone collectors. Animals and humans didn’t actually live in the caves; the soil, rocks and bones fell from above the ground and landed in the caves. The natural elements then preserved the animals and plants, and that’s how we’re able to gather so much information about past species.

Tours of the caves begin above ground and take visitors deep into the caves, where you’ll have the chance to observe the cave formations and geology. Then, take a visit to the museum to see fascinating displays of early life forms, mammals and a collection of hominid fossils.

The Cradle of Humankind, Maropeng Visitor Centre

Maropeng is the official visiting centre for the Cradle of Humankind. The centre is an award-winning exhibition that focuses on human development and shares information about our ancestors.

It’s not only focused on our human development but also the entire journey of evolution. How did the beginning of the world come to be? What makes humans so special anyway? What are fossils and how can we learn from them? You’ll find all these answers in fun, interactive exhibitions throughout the Maropeng museum.

Where is the Cradle of Humankind and How to Get There

The Cradle of Humankind is situated in the Gauteng province of South Africa and located 50 km outside of Johannesburg. It’s approximately a 90-minute drive from the city centre, making it an ideal day trip for the entire family.

Leaving Johannesburg, travel along the R400. Then take the R563 to Hekpoor, Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves are both along this road and only 10 km apart.

Cradle of Humankind Prices

Both Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves are open to the public every day from 9 am to 5 pm. The last tours of the day depart at 4, just to ensure that there’s enough time to explore the cradle of humankind museum and caves.

These prices come from the official Cradle of Humankind website, but the prices may vary and be subject to change. These are around the prices you’ll be paying:

Maropeng Cradle of Humankind Ticket Prices

Admission fee for adults: R120

Admission fee for Children: R65

Children under the age of 4: Free Access

Admission fee for pensioners: R65  – this will include tickets to both the visitor centre and the Sterkfontein. Pensioners are required to show their ID card upon purchase.

Admission fee for students: R75 – students will be required to bring along their student card.

Admission fee for school groups: R65 -the price is per student.

Ticket Prices for the Sterkfontein Caves

Admission fee for adults: R165

Admission fee for Children: R97

Children under the age of 4: Free Access

Admission fee for students: R100 – students will be required to bring along their student card.

Admission fee for school groups: R90 -the price is per student.

Price of Combination Tickets for Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves

You can make the most of your time by purchasing a combo ticket to Maropeng and the Caves.

Admission fee for adults: R190

Admission fee for Children: R125

Children under the age of 4: Free Access

Admission fee for pensioners: R65  – this will include tickets to both the visitor centre and the Sterkfontein. Pensioners are required to show their ID card upon purchase.

Admission fee for school groups: R120 -the price is per student.

To Sum up the Cradle of Humankind

The development of humans and our ancestors, dating back millions of years, can quite frankly blow your mind away. The history of our kind is essential for understanding why we are the way we are today. It’s an amazing opportunity for both young and old.

Travelling to Johannesburg doesn’t mean you need to spend money unnecessarily. Simply budget your trip and book in advance. Put on your comfy shoes and get ready for some mind-blowing cave exploration, while guides and the helpful signage reveal why these caves are so special. 

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