Cradle of Humankind
The Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage Site, about 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa in the Gauteng province. This site currently occupies 47,000 hectares (180 sq mi); it contains a complex of limestone caves, including the Sterkfontein Caves, where the 2.3-million-year-old fossil Australopithecus africanus (nicknamed "Mrs Ples") was found in 1947 by Dr Robert Broom and John T. Robinson. The find helped corroborate 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.
In 1935 Robert Broom found the first ape-man fossils at Sterkfontein and began work at this site. In 1938 a young schoolboy, Gert Terrblanche, brought Raymond Dart fragments of a skull from nearby Kromdraai which later were identified as Paranthropus robustus. Also in 1938, a single ape-man tooth was found at the Cooper's site between Kromdraai and Sterkfontein. In 1948 the Camp-Peabody Expedition from the United States worked at Bolts Farm and Gladysvale looking for fossil hominids but failed to find any. Later in 1948, Robert Broom identified the first hominid remains from Swartkrans cave. In 1954 C.K. Brain began working at sites in the Cradle including Coopers and he soon would initiate his three-decade work at Swartkrans cave which would result in the recovery of the second largest sample of hominid remains from the Cradle. The oldest controlled use of fire was also discovered at Swartkrans and dated to over 1 million years ago.
There are more than three dozen fossil-bearing caves in the Cradle of Humankind.