South African Things

Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves: A Journey into the Cradle of Humankind

The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located just outside Johannesburg, South Africa. This site is a treasure trove of prehistoric fossils and artifacts, providing invaluable insights into the origins and evolution of our species. Within this site, Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves stand out as two of the most significant locations for understanding human evolution.


The Cradle of Humankind is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, and it is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in human history. In this article, we will explore two of the most fascinating sites within the Cradle of Humankind – Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves. We will delve into the geology of these sites, examine the early discoveries at Sterkfontein Caves, and explore the modern exhibitions at Maropeng. Additionally, we will examine the significance of these sites and their ongoing contributions to the study of human evolution.

The Geology of Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves

Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves are located in the dolomitic limestone hills of the Witwatersrand, a geological formation that spans much of South Africa. The Witwatersrand is a gold-bearing formation, and mining in the area has exposed a vast network of caves, some of which contain the fossils of our ancient ancestors.

The dolomite formation is unique because it is highly soluble in water, leading to the creation of numerous caves and underground rivers. The underground rivers create large caverns over time, which eventually collapse to form the cave systems that we see today.

Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves are two of the most significant cave systems within the Cradle of Humankind. Sterkfontein Caves are the most famous, having produced some of the most significant discoveries in human evolution, but Maropeng is also an important site for understanding the geological history of the area.

Early Discoveries at Sterkfontein Caves

Sterkfontein Caves have been the site of numerous archaeological discoveries since their discovery in the late 19th century. The most famous of these discoveries was the discovery of Australopithecus africanus by Robert Broom in the early 20th century.

Australopithecus africanus is an extinct species of hominid that lived between 3 and 2 million years ago. The discovery of this species was significant because it provided the first concrete evidence that our human ancestors had evolved in Africa.

Another significant discovery at Sterkfontein Caves was the discovery of Mrs. Ples in 1947. Mrs. Ples is the nickname given to a skull belonging to the species Australopithecus africanus. This discovery was important because it provided further evidence that early humans evolved in Africa.

Maropeng: The Cradle of Humankind Visitor Centre

Maropeng is the official visitor center for the Cradle of Humankind and is located near the entrance to the Sterkfontein Caves. The center offers an interactive and informative experience, designed to educate visitors about the geological and archaeological history of the area.

One of the highlights of Maropeng is the underground boat ride that takes visitors on a journey through the geological history of the area. The ride is a multimedia experience that includes visual displays, sounds, and lighting effects.

The Sterkfontein Caves tour is another highlight of the Maropeng experience. The tour takes visitors through the cave system, exploring the various chambers and highlighting the significant archaeological discoveries that have been made in the area.

The Tumulus building is another noteworthy feature of Maropeng. The Tumulus is a large, circular building that houses the exhibition hall. This unique building is made from sustainable materials and features a grass roof that blends seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. The exhibition hall inside the Tumulus is a modern, interactive space that showcases the latest discoveries in human evolution.

Visitors to Maropeng can also explore the outdoor exhibitions, which include a display of life-size models of early hominids, a replica of a traditional African homestead, and a botanical garden featuring plants that have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.

The Significance of Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves

Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves are significant because they provide a glimpse into our shared human history. These sites have contributed to our understanding of the origins and evolution of our species and have helped to debunk many of the myths and misconceptions about human evolution.

The discoveries made at Sterkfontein Caves have been instrumental in shaping our understanding of early human evolution. The site has yielded a wealth of fossils and artifacts, including some of the oldest evidence of human ancestors. The ongoing excavations at Sterkfontein Caves continue to provide new insights into our evolutionary history.

Maropeng is significant because it serves as a hub for education and research in the Cradle of Humankind. The center offers a range of educational programs and resources for researchers, educators, and the general public. By providing access to the latest research and discoveries, Maropeng is helping to shape our understanding of human evolution.


Is there a cost to visit Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves?

Yes, there is a cost to enter both Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves, but prices vary depending on the type of tour or package you choose.

Are there age restrictions for visiting Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves?

There are no specific age restrictions, but some tours may not be suitable for very young children.

Can visitors touch the fossils or artifacts at Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves?

No, visitors are not allowed to touch the fossils or artifacts, as they are delicate and irreplaceable.

How long does it take to visit Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves?

The length of your visit will depend on the type of tour or package you choose, but most visitors spend at least half a day exploring the sites.

Can visitors take photographs at Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves?

Yes, visitors are allowed to take photographs in most areas, but flash photography is not allowed in some areas to protect the fossils and artifacts.