The wonder of the Cradle of Humankind

Friday, September 30, 2016
The Cradle of Humankind is arguably regarded as the place where humankind originated.

No one can deny the intrinsic beauty and rich history of South Africa - a country which is blessed with natural beauty and cultural diversity. As part of our Heritage Month feature series, reporter Neo Semono takes a look a the Cradle of Humankind, in Johannesburg.

This natural wonder of our country is located a mere 90 minutes’ drive away from the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg city centre and it’s a place many people have visited in search of answers to the human origins.

The area is part of the eight United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO’s) World Heritage Sites in South Africa and upon your visit there, you will immediately know why.

The site is arguably regarded as the place where humankind originated and is the world’s richest hominin site and home to around 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils.

World renowned fossils like Mrs Ples were discovered in the Sterkfontein Caves at the Cradle of Humankind. The place is also home to other hominin sites like the Swartkrans and Kromdraai caves. All of the 16 caves in the area are protected under law.

“It is a one and only. There is nothing else like it on the planet. It presents us with the best evidence of our earliest beginnings as a species.  Nowhere else can you get as close to our early ancestry as you can here,” explains Michael Worsnip, the Managing Director of Maropeng, the official visitors centre at the Cradle of Humankind.

Last September, the heritage site made global headlines with the discovery of the Homo Naledi fossils.

The fossils, which have been described as a new species of the human relatives, were found deep in the Rising Star caves. The find was of the fossil remains of infants, children and adults.

The discovery not only made waves in the scientific world but it also drew the interest of many people, resulting in increased foot traffic to the site. As many as 3000 people visited the site on a daily basis within the month in which the Homo Naledi fossils were on display.

“Even the months following the exhibition, numbers spiked significantly. In the month after the exhibition, the spike continued and we are continuously being asked where the fossils are,” says Worsnip.

Homo Naledi fossils add to the importance of visiting this site for anyone wanting to explore their country this Tourism Month.

For those who missed last year’s month-long display of the fossil, the good news is that the fossils will probably return to the Cradle of Humankind this December.

Worsnip describes the world heritage site as a sacred space that should form part of anyone’s bucket list of things to do.

“This is a holy place, almost a place of pilgrimage. It is the place where you can come and contemplate where we come from over millions of years, where we are now and our very uncertain future as a species.”

On average, the site receives 19 000 visitors a month with up to 224 000 visitors a year.

Government has on numerous occasions called on South Africans to be tourists in their own country, a call that has been heeded by many with 80% of visitors to the site being locals.

There are many other things to do within the 53 0000 hectares of the site.

Tourism in the area has come a long way over the years considering that there were only 47 operators 15 years ago. Today, the cradle boasts over 400 tourism operations which has grown the economy of the area.

 “The exponential economic growth has been staggering and we don’t anticipate this slowing down anytime soon. This is one of our greatest successes,” says Worsnip.

Go carting, river rafting, trails and ballooning are just some of the attractions that form part of the long list of activities available to the public visiting the cradle and its vicinity. You may also want to consider abseiling in the Wonder Caves.

One can also take a boat ride on the underground lake at the Maropeng visitor centre exhibition that provides visitors with a history of the earth’s evolution.

Restaurants catering for every taste are also available to visitors.

The public can also visit the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve which is situated in the heartland of the cradle. The reserve offers a game drive whereby you can catch a glimpse of over 30 species including lion, rhino and buffalo.

If you looking for accommodation, the posh Maropeng Boutique Hotel is a five minute walk from Maropeng while there are also various guest houses situated near the world heritage site.

To experience the rich culture of South Africa, visitors can spend the night at the Lesedi Cultural Village where they can soak themselves in the traditions and day-to day lives of the Zulu, Xhosa and Pedi people among others. So if you want answers to everything that makes us human, be sure to visit the Cradle of Humankind. –

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