Monday, 4 April 2016

Cradle of Humankind - Sterkfontein Caves

Last week I detailed my experience at the Maropeng Visitors Centre, and this week is round two with what it was like to visit Strekfontein Caves. The caves at Sterkfontein are actual archeological dig sites, so not all parts of it are accessible such as a section of the caves where the Little Foot fossil was found. In fact while walking around the caves the very knowledgeable guides do point out sections where you can see actual dig sites, as such all in all the caves are a fantastic learning experience as you are essentially getting to walk through a highly important scientific laboratory.

Beside Little Foot, the most important discovery in this cave is the skull of Mrs Ples, and as the guide was telling us Mrs Ples is probably Mr Ples, however the name cannot be changed as names given to fossils cannot be changed. The other important discovery from the caves is the proposed Homo gautengensis fossil. So these three fossils among others found int he caves make Sterkfontein a very unique place.

Before your guided tour of the caves, you get a chance to wonder around a really nice museum/exhibit which displays casts of most of the important fossils that have been found in and around the Cradle of Humankind. This exhibit is great but is far smaller that the Maropeng Visitors Center Museum, so the combined ticket is well worth it. Needless to say, to go through the caves it is advised that you be relatively fit as you descend pretty far and you then naturally have to ascend out of the caves. Claustrophobic people are also advised that perhaps this tour should be avoided as there are some rather tight spaces that you have to go through. That said, it is worth going through a little discomfort (if you can) as Sterkfontein is an experience that is really once in a lifetime.

When you enter the caves you get to see a bunch of stalactites and stalagmites, never mind absorbing the atmosphere of such an important archeological site. For example the likewise important Rising Star caves where Homo Naledi was found will probably never be open to the public due to the extreme space confinements. The bottom most part of the cave is where you get to take in the underground lake, which is unexplored due to the enormity and danger associated with underground cave exploration. This just makes you wonder what else is there to find in these caves, as so much still lies unexplored.

The Elephant limestone rock formation

After the lake is where you begin your ascent and then you exit again into the sunlight where your tour wraps up with a tribute to the late Dr Robert Boom who discovered the Mrs Ples fossil, among many others such as the Taung Child, and the species Paranthropus robustus. All in all a fantastic time and a trip I would highly recommend.

One view of the Underground Lake