Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs
The Taung Skull Fossil Site, part of the extension to the site inscribed in 1999, is the place where in 1924 the celebrated Taung Skull – a specimen of the species Australopithecus africanus – was found. Makapan Valley, also in the site, features in its many archaeological caves traces of human occupation and evolution dating back some 3.3 million years. The area contains essential elements that define the origin and evolution of humanity. Fossils found there 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.
Outstanding Universal Value
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.
Criterion (iii): The nominated serial site bears exceptional testimony to some of the most important Australopithecine specimens dating back more than 3.5 million years. This therefore throws light on to the origins and then the evolution of humankind, through the hominisation process.
Criterion (vi): The serially nominated sites are situated in unique natural settings that have created a suitable environment for the capture and preservation of human and animal remains that have allowed scientists a window into the past. Thus, this site constitutes a vast reserve of scientific data of universal scope and considerable potential, linked to the history of the most ancient periods of humankind.
The Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs together with Makapan Valley and Taung Skull Fossil Site comprise five separate components situated in different provinces and each has a buffer zone. Collectively these components contain the necessary evidence of sites where abundant scientific information on the evolution of modern humans over the past 3.5 million years was uncovered. Furthermore, the nominated serial site covers an area big enough to constitute a vast reserve of scientific information, with enormous potential.
As regards authenticity, the sites contain within their deposits all of the key interrelated and interdependent elements in their natural palaeontological relationships. Thus, the breccia representing the cave fillings contains the fossilised remains of hominids, their lithicultural remains (from about 2.0 million years onwards), fossils of other animals, plants and pollen, as well as geochemical and sedimentological evidence of the conditions under which each member of the deposits was laid down. They represent a succession of palaeo‑ecosystems. The caves, breccias and strata from which quantities of fossils or tools have been extracted, together with the landscape are generally intact, but are vulnerable to development pressures, villagers’ use of the environment and tourism.
Protection and management requirements (2005)
The components of the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs together with Makapan Valley and Taung Skull Fossil Site are currently protected as National Heritage sites in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act, 1999 (Act No. 25 of 1999). In terms of this legislation, n o person may destroy, damage, deface, excavate, alter, remove from its original position, subdivide or change the planning status of any heritage site without a permit issued by the heritage resources authority responsible for the protection of such site.
Management of each site is guided by the World Heritage Convention Act (Act No 49 of 1999); the National Environmental Protected Areas Act (Act No 57 of 2003), the National Environmental Management Act (Act No 107 of 1998), the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (Act No 10 of 2004) and the Physical Planning Act, 1967 (Act No. 88 of 1967) .
In terms of these pieces of legislation, mining or prospecting is completely prohibited in a World Heritage Site and all developments are subjected to environmental impact assessments.
There are also site management plans for each of the sites as well as monitoring and evaluation programmes for each.
The five components of the property are situated in separate provinces in South Africa, each with a different combination of structures dealing with its management. Management issues at the five serial sites differ significantly. At the time of inscription of the first three sites it was envisaged that there would be a joint World Heritage Property Management Committee and that each Province and Site Management Authority would nominate members to the joint World Heritage Property Management Committee. It was envisaged that the function of the committee would be to streamline inter-site management, to discuss common management problems and to function as a communications forum for the sites. The equitable sharing of the benefits of increased tourism, joint funding proposals and the sharing of heritage-based skills were all issues to be considered.
The Sterkfontein area contains an exceptionally large and scientifically significant group of sites which throw light on the earliest ancestors of humanity. They constitute a vast reserve of scientific data of universal scope and considerable potential, linked to the history of the most ancient periods of humanity. They bear exceptional testimony to some of the most important Australopithecine specimens dating back more than 3.5 million years; this throws unique light on the origins and then the evolution of humankind through the hominization process.
The landscape comprises a number of fossil-bearing cave deposits which are considered to be of outstanding universal value, because they encapsulate a superbly preserved record of the fauna, including an invaluable record of the stages in the emergence and evolution of humanity, over the past 3.5 million years. This makes it, without doubt, one of the world's most important sites for human evolutionary studies and researches. The site is located on a hill to the south of the Rietspruit river valley 45 km west of Johannesburg and 5 km north of the closest urban centre. The palaeontological and palaeoanthropological sites are a series of caves found in the dolomite band and its associated breccias which run through the entire area, creating a hilly terrain. The area is covered mainly by grass, with more dense vegetation along the rivers.
Some of the sites were discovered as a result of lime-mining activities, now discontinued. Sterkfontein is located on a hill to the south of the Rietspruit River valley. Of the nine included in the area, only three (Drimolen, Coopers B, Gondolin) have so far revealed hominid remains; Wonder Cave, Gladysvale, Bolt's Farm, Minnaar's Caves, Plover's Lake and Haasgat have only produced faunal remains but they possess a strong potential for revealing hominid remains. The fossils of the Sterkfontein valley caves depict South Africa's landscape and fauna 3.5 million years ago. Some of the most important specimens of australopithecines, collateral ancestors of modern man, have been discovered in this area. Sterkfontein geologically revealed the earliest record of hominids in southern Africa (close to 3.5 million years ago).
The Taung Skull Fossil Site consists of archaeological, palaeontological, historic and mining sites that are important in heritage terms. Makapan Valley consists of palaeontological, archaeological and historic sites. The components of the Taung Skull Fossil Site includes archaeological sites whose importance is widely recognized. It is primarily the palaeontological and palaeo-anthropological component which has made the Taung Skull Fossil Site so celebrated. This applies not only to the scientific world but also to the cultural world which is fascinated by the origin and history of humankind, in view of the fact, which is now indisputable, that Africa is the cradle of humankind. The components of Makapan Valley: this ensemble, of acknowledged richness, consists of palaeontological, archaeological and historic sites. The whole of this zone contains essential elements that define the origin and evolution of humankind. Thus, as a result of exploration and scientific analysis:
- geological strata have revealed the first traces of hominids in southern Africa;
- stone and bone tools, dating back 2-1.5million years, have been uncovered, particularly at the time of the discovery in 1936 of the first adult Australopithecus ;
- fossil elements have enabled the identification of several specimens of early hominids, linked to the Homo genus, a collateral ancestor of modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens ), more particularly specimens of Paranthropus: Australopithecus africanus and Australopithecus robustus .
- evidence of the domestication of fire, another specific characteristic of human behaviour, has been detected, for the period extending from 1.8million to 1million years ago.
The fossils of the Sterkfontein Valley caves depict South Africa's landscape and fauna 3.5 million years ago. Some of the most important specimens of australopithecines (Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus and Australopithecus (Plesianthropus) africanus), collateral ancestors of modern man, have been discovered in this area. Sterkfontein geologically revealed the earliest record of hominid in southern Africa (close to 3.5 million years ago). It is also historically the earliest discovery of an adult australopithecine in 1936, by Robert Broom, the richest source of fossils of this species and the oldest stone tools recovered (2 to 1.5 million years BP). Specimens of Homo habilis have also been found in the breccias of Sterkfontein caves. They are key elements in determining the origin and the evolution of mankind. Their belonging to the lineage that gave birth to Homo sapiens sapiens (modern man) was demonstrated by proving that their cranial capacity, their diet, and their upright posture were all indicative of a kinship to modern man. Stone and bone tools, dating to around 2 to 1.5 million years BP, have been brought to light at Sterkfontein, Kromdraai, and Swartkrans which support this hypothesis.
Evidence for the controlled use of fire has been observed in the Swartkrans cave (1.8 to 1 million years BP), another specific trait of human behaviour. The antiquity of these fossils and their relative position as primates with indisputable hominid traits proclaimed Africa as the cradle of humanity.Source: Advisory Body Evaluation