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Coordinates: 26°00′56.36″S 27°44′03.46″E / 26.0156556°S 27.7342944°E / -26.0156556; 27.7342944

Archaeologists in a structure above the entrance to Sterkfontein.

Sterkfontein (Afrikaans for Strong Spring) is a set of limestone caves of special interest to paleo-anthropologists located in Gauteng province, Northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa near the town of Krugersdorp. The archaeological sites of Swartkrans (Afrikaans for Black Cliff) and Kromdraai (Afrikaans for Crooked Turn) (and the Wonder Cave) are in the same area.

A number of early hominid remains have been found at the site over the last few decades.

Sterkfontein was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 and the area in which it is situated, was named the Cradle of Humankind.

Modern excavation of the caves began in the late 1890s by limestone miners who noticed the fossils and brought them to the attention of scientists. It was not until 1936 that students of Professor Raymond Dart and Dr. Robert Broom from the University of the Witwatersrand began concerted excavations.

These excavations revealed many early hominids. In 1936, the Sterkfontein caves yielded the first adult Australopithecine, substantially strengthening Raymond Dart's claim that the skull known as the Taung child (Australopithecus africanus) was a human ancestor. There was a pause in excavation during World War II, but after the war Dr. Broom continued excavations. In 1947 he found the almost complete skull of an adult female Australopithecus africanus (or possibly that of an adolescent male). Broom initially named the skull Plesianthropus transvaalensis (near-man from Transvaal), but it became better known by its nickname, Mrs. Ples. Mrs. Ples is estimated to be between 2.6 and 2.8 million years old placing it in the Pliocene. In 1997 a near complete skeleton of an early hominid was found in the caves by Ronald J. Clarke; extraction of the remains from the surrounding breccia is ongoing. The skeleton was named Little Foot, since the first parts found (in 1995, in storage) were the bones of a foot; it is estimated to be 3.3 million years old.

Excavations continue to this day and finds now total some 500 hominids, making Sterkfontein the richest site in the world for early hominids.

The Palaeo-Anthropology Scientific Trust (PAST), a non-profit trust fund established in 1994, sponsors over 90% of the research undertaken at Sterkfontein and was instrumental in its nomination as a World Heritage Site.

Behind this gate are the ongoing excavations of Little Foot

See also

External links

The underground lake in the Sterkfontein Caves. One diver has died in the lake.
A view down toward the lake in the caves.
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