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Cradle of Humankind facts for kids

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Cradle of Humankind *
  • Name as inscribed on World Heritage List
    ** Region as classified by UNESCO

The Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage Site. It was first named by UNESCO in 1999. The site is about 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa in the Gauteng province, and occupies 47,000 hectares (180 sq mi).

The site's limestone caves, including the Sterkfontein Caves, were where fossils were found. A 2.3-million year-old fossil Australopithecus africanus (nicknamed 'Mrs. Ples') was found in 1947 by Robert Broom and John T. Robinson. The find followed the 1924 discovery of the juvenile Australopithecus africanus skull, 'Taung Child', by Raymond Dart, at Taung in the North West Province of South Africa, where excavations still continue.

The name Cradle of Humankind reflects the fact that the site has produced a large number, as well as some of the oldest, hominid fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago. Sterkfontein alone has produced more than a third of early hominid fossils ever found.

Cradle of Humankind plan
Important sites


The name Cradle of Humankind reflects the fact that the site has produced a large number of (as well as some of the oldest) hominin fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago.

Recent work

Australopithecus sediba
Skull of a juvenile male Australopithecus sediba

The remains of several partial skeletons of a previously unknown Australopithecan species were found in 2008 near Johannesburg. They have been dated to about two million year ago (mya). A recent re-examination of two partial skeletons of Australopithecus sediba has led to its identification as close to the origin of the genus Homo. Not all palaeoanthropologists agree this is a new species.

A new analysis shows this species had a human-like pelvis, hands and teeth, and a chimpanzee-like foot. The findings suggest that some species of australopithecine climbed trees, some walked on the ground, and some did both.

Colleagues in England investigated the teeth. Like other parts of the skeleton, the teeth are a mosaic of primitive and human-like features.


There are more than three dozen fossil-bearing caves in the Cradle of Humankind, including:

  • Bolt's Farm
  • Cooper's Cave
  • Drimolen
  • Gladysvale
  • Gondolin
  • Haasgat
  • Kromdraai
  • Makapan valley
  • Malapa Fossil Site
  • Minaars Cave
  • Motsetsi
  • Plovers Lake
  • Rising Star Cave
  • Sterkfontein
  • Swartkrans
  • Wonder Cave

Geological context

South Africa-Gauteng-Maropeng01
Tumulus building at Maropeng visitors centre

The hominin remains at the Cradle of Humankind are found in dolomitic caves and are often encased in a mixture of limestone and other sediments called breccia and fossilised over time. Hominids may have lived all over Africa, but their remains are found only at sites where conditions allowed for the formation and preservation of fossils.

Visitor centres

On 7 December 2005, the South African President Thabo Mbeki opened the new Maropeng Visitors Centre at the site.

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