Sterkfontein Exhibition Guide

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The Sterkfontein online exhibition guide complements the displays in the visitor centre at the Sterkfontein Caves.

The displays here focus on the geology of cave formation and how fossils are preserved and extracted, and on the amazing finds of hominid fossils in the Sterkfontein Caves, the Cradle of Humankind’s most famous fossil site.

Feel free to use our information for educational and individual purposes with credit to Maropeng, but you many not duplicate it for commercial purposes.

Formation of the Earth, dolomite and early life

The Earth was born in a ball of fire in the bright, hot, early solar system, about 4.6-billion years ago.

As the Earth cooled, a primary “broth” formed over the thin crust to create the first oceans, and gases exhaled from within – mainly water vapour and carbon dioxide – formed the first primitive atmosphere.

The Earth in those far-off times was devoid of life.

To read more, click here.

Cave formation

The caves at Sterkfontein were formed in dolomitic limestone over millions of years. They began to form as early as 20-million years ago. Most caves including Sterkfontein – are formed by the dissolving action of weakly acidic rainwater, which seeps into the soluble rock through the soil.

To read more, click here.

Mining and the discovery of the Sterkfontein Caves

Guglielmo Martinaglia, an Italian miner, blasted through the surface openings of the Sterkfontein Caves in 1896. At roughly the same time, members of the South African Geological Society reported interesting cave formations and fossils in the caves.

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Creation beliefs

Oral histories and mythologies about where we come from have existed for many tens of thousands of years.

To read more, click here.

Studying fossils and extinct animals

Although Sterkfontein is best known for the hundreds of fossils of early hominids discovered here, it has also yielded thousands of animal bones representing a great variety of species, which tell us about the environment and climatic change.

To read more, click here.

Human evolution

The hominid family tree has a large number of branches. Although researchers agree on the general trends of hominid evolution, the relative scarcity and fragmentary nature of fossils and time gaps in the fossil record leave room for debate.

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Australopithecus

Australopithecus, which means “southern ape”, was actually an upright-walking hominid with human-like teeth and hands. Its main ape-like features were a small brain, flattened nose region and forward-projecting jaws. Different species of this genus populated the eastern and southern parts of Africa between 4-million and 2-million years ago.

To read more, click here.

Paranthropus

Paranthropus robustus lived in the Cradle of Humankind from about 2.5-million to 1-million years ago. It had huge jaws for chewing tough vegetation like roots and tubers. It was not a direct ancestor of humankind, but an ancient cousin.

To read more, click here.

“Little Foot”

“Little Foot”, an extraordinary fossilised skeleton of an early form of Australopithecus, is between 4.1-million and 3.3-million years old, making it the oldest known hominid from the Cradle of Humankind. The finding of Little Foot, deep inside a Sterkfontein cavern, was one of the most remarkable discoveries ever made in the field of palaeoanthropology.

To read more, click here.

Homo

Humans, Homo sapiens, are the only species of Homo in existence today. There have been many species in the human family tree belonging to the genus Homo in the past 2.3-million years or so.

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Stone tools

One of the features that distinguishes humans and their hominid ancestors from the rest of the animal kingdom is their possession of complex culture, which includes the ability to communicate with spoken language, create art and make tools. The oldest stone tools dated so far are nearly 2.6-million years old and come from Ethiopia.

To read more, click here.

World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Sites are declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to recognise and preserve outstanding places of cultural and natural heritage. World Heritage Sites include places like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal in India.

To read more, click here.

Fossil excavations and dating

Sterkfontein is a cave system that has been excavated by palaeontologists and archaeologists since 1936, when the first hominid fossil was found here.

To read more, click here.

Environment and climate

The evolving landscape of the Cradle of Humankind is today associated with Rocky Highveld Gassland, which supports a great diversity of plants and animals, some of which are rare and endangered.

To read more, click here.

Visitor Information

Opening times

Maropeng 09h00 - 17h00 every day

Sterkfontein Caves 09h00 - 17h00 every day

Rates and specials

Maropeng

Adults: R120 | Children (4-14): R65
Children under 4: free
Pensioners: R65
Students: R75
School groups: R65 per pupil

Sterkfontein Caves

Adults: R165 | Children (4-14): R97
Children under 4: free
Pensioners: R85
Students: R100
School groups: R90 per pupil

Combination ticket

Adults: R190 | Children (4-14): R125
School groups: R120 per pupil

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Please note: No pets are allowed at Maropeng and Sterkfontein. Service dogs and guide dogs are the exception

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