UNESCO World Heritage Site #267: Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa

UNESCO World Heritage Site #267: Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa
UNESCO World Heritage Site #267: Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa

From the World Heritage inscription:

The undulating landscape containing the fossil hominid sites of South Africa comprises dolomitic limestone ridges with rocky outcrops and valley grasslands, wooded along watercourses and in areas of natural springs. Most sites are in caves or are associated with rocky outcrops or water sources. The serial listing includes the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs, and the Makapan Valley and Taung Skull Fossil Site. The Taung Skull, found in a limestone quarry at Dart Pinnacle amongst numerous archaeological and palaeontological sites south-west of the Sterkfontein Valley area, is a specimen of the species Australopithecus Africanus. Fossils found in the many archaeological caves of the Makapan Valley have enabled the identification of several specimens of early hominids, more particularly of Paranthropus, dating back between 4.5 million and 2.5 million years, as well as evidence of the domestication of fire 1.8 million to 1 million years ago. Collectively these sites have produced abundant scientific information on the evolution of modern humans over at least the past 3.5 million years. They constitute a vast reserve of scientific information, with enormous potential.

The sites contain within their deposits all of the key interrelated and interdependent elements in their palaeontological relationships. Alongside and predating the hominid period of occupation is a sequence of fossil mammals, micro-mammals and invertebrates which provide a window onto faunal evolution, palaeobiology and palaeoecology stretching back into the Pliocene. This record has come to play a crucial role in furthering our understanding of human evolution and the appearance of modern human behaviour .

The fossil evidence contained within these sites proves conclusively that the African continent is the undisputed Cradle of Humankind.

Before I even arrived, I knew I was in for trouble. Every other time I’ve visited a paleontology world heritage site, I’ve faced the same problem: there is nothing to photograph! What makes the site significant are the fossils which have been unearthed and put into museums. Usually my only options are the visitor center or the landscape surrounding it. As you can see, I went for one of the original skulls currently residing in the museum.

That being said, the Cradle of Civilization site in Gauteng Province was unlike any other world heritage site I have ever visited. It is what it would look like if Disney ran a world heritage site. The visitor center was more of a science museum. They actually had a boat ride and an artificial canal inside the building! It was easily the best, most elaborate visitor center I’ve seen in my years of traveling and visits to several hundred world heritage sites. It appears to have been designed to handle the many school trips for all the students in the greater Johannesburg area.

The site is actually a serial site with several locations scattered around an area the size of a large city. The Cradle of Civilization is the main site, but there are others which can be visited. In particular, the Sterkfontein Caves are only a few kilometers from the visitor center, but were closed due to flooding during my visit.