1.         Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa (South Africa) (C 915bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1999

Criteria  (iii)(vi)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/915/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/915/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions


Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/915/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2013

In January 2011, the World Heritage Centre requested the State Party to undertake a study to address concerns that had been raised by various parties about a potential threat to the World Heritage property posed by effluent from abandoned and active mines in the vicinity. The study, commissioned by the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site Management Authority, Department of Economic Development, Gauteng Province, South Africa, was prepared in 2011 by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. On 14 March 2013, ICOMOS completed an assessment of this exhaustive study. This assessment is available online at the following Web address: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/915/documents.

Acid Mine Drainage (AMD)

Over a number of years, concerns have been raised that acidic waters rich in iron and other minerals (Acid Mine Drainage, or AMD) from abandoned mines in the vicinity of the World Heritage property, plus the input of treated mine water (and, in recent years, the overflow of untreated and partly treated mine waters at times of heavy rainfall) from the workings of an active mine about 15 km distant into the hydrology system of the property, might have a harmful effect on the caves that underpin the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property. The 2011 study, “Situation assessment of the surface water and groundwater resource environments in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site”, attempts for the first time to give a comprehensive picture of the surface and sub-surface water regime within the property.

In relation to the impact of AMD on the property, the study concludes, inter alia, that nine of the 14 cave sites are considered to be at low risk for hydro-vulnerability, though one site (Bolt’s Farm) has very high vulnerability. The Sterkfontein caves are judged to be highly vulnerable, but this is mitigated by long-term observed geochemical studies showing low impact on groundwater.


The study concludes that long-term monitoring needs to be maintained, and that natural treatment of AMD by neutralisation with the dolomites is not viable, therefore management of mine waters is required. Furthermore, the study recommends a gravity survey of the lower Riet Spruit valley to map karstic voids; extension of hydro-vulnerability mapping to other caves; establishment of a monitoring committee of key stakeholders; extension of treatment of mine waters at the head of Tweelopie Spruit; and establishment of emergency limestone channels in the Tweelopie Spruit and Riet Spruit.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies suggest that the Committee congratulate the State Party for an excellent study. The work described appears to have been undertaken in accordance with best practice, and the results appear to reflect current scientific knowledge. The amount of field measurements to support the work is impressive. The study has successfully answered some of the uncertainties in knowledge about the hydrology and hydrogeology of the property.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies are of the view that the recommendations in the 2011 study should be acted upon. Cooperation with other agencies, especially the Department of Water Affairs, should be strongly encouraged, and there should be consultation and agreement on the proposed resource quality objectives. Regular monitoring should be established, and a timeframe set to meet the agreed quality objectives.


The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that since the study was written, the Department of Water Affairs has initiated a “Feasibility study for a long-term solution to address the AMD associated with the East, Central and West Rand underground mining basins”. A void assessment report was issued in draft form in March 2013, and a feasibility report proposes a system of active treatment of AMD and leachate from mine dumps for the West, Central and East Rand. If implemented in the West Rand, it should reduce the risks of AMD to the OUV of the property. They recommend that a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission be undertaken in order to assess the AMD impact to the property and propose recommendations to the State Party.  

Decision Adopted: 37 COM 7B.44

The World Heritage Committee,

1.  Having examined Document WHC-13/37.COM/7B.Add,

2.  Acknowledges the submission by the State Party of a study on the “Situation assessment of the surface water and groundwater resource environments in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site”, undertaken in accordance with best practice and reflecting current scientific knowledge;

3.  Notes with satisfaction progress made by the State Party in implementing the recommendations of the study;

4.  Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2015 , an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and progress made in putting in place satisfactory systems to mitigate the impacts of the Acid Mining Drainage (AMD) on the property, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session in 2015. 

Decision Adopted: 37 COM 8B.5

The World Heritage Committee,

1.   Having examined Document WHC-13/37.COM/8B,

2.   Approves the name change to the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs as proposed by the South African authorities. The name of the property becomes Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa in English and Sites des hominidés fossils d’Afrique du Sud in French.