Sterkfontein Caves

“...a humbling history lesson.“
“The family had a great day exploring the cave at Sterkfontein ....“

The start of the 115 steps that lead down into the cave

Declared a UNESCO World Heriage Site in 1999, the Sterkfontein Caves complex - roughly one hour (50kms : 33miles) north-west of Johannesburg, has, along with East Africa, the world's longest recorded human activity.

Owned by the University of the Witwatersrand, Sterkfontein is one of 15 fossil bearing dolomitic caves found in the 47,000 hectare Cradle of Humankind - so named because it contains the world's richest concentration of hominid remains.

The dolomitic caves in the Cradle of Humankind, which have been formed by chemical weathering, involving water, during the last 3.5 million years, are the perfect preserve for the ancient fossils of our own human evolution.

Before going underground, Norman our guide, explained a number of exhibits in the interpretive, open air museum

Fast forward to the discovery of gold in the nearby goldfields in the 1880's, where lime was needed to help with the extraction of gold from the ore bearing rock.

These dolomitic caves which had protected their fossils for eons, were discovered as a source of lime, and were mined - using explosives, in the late 1890's.

The miners, as well as visitors who had started to frequent the caves, discovered fossils, but it was only in 1935 that scientists became involved in their preservation.

Since then, palaeoanthropologists have unearthed roughly one third of all fossils of early human ancestors ever found!

Every day : 09h00 - 17h00 (9.00am - 5.00pm)
Underground tours every 30 minutes
Last tour at 16h00

Adults: R140
Children (4-14 years): R80
Children under 4: Free
Pensioners/Students: R85 (on production of a valid pensioner/student card)

Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng Combined ticket :
Available until 13h00
Adults: R215
Children (4-14 years): R130
Children under 4: Free

Telephone : +27 (0)14 577-9000
Send an E-Mail

Sterkfontein is not a pretty cave!

There are no coloured lights showing off vast chambers with huge cascading limestone formations, and not many stalagtites or stalagmites remain.
These were removed during the mining!

It is however a cave of immense historical interest.

Hundreds of hominid and animal fossils, some older than 4-million years, have been discovered.

Part of the small museum in the Visitors Centre

"Mrs Ples", a 2.1-million-year-old Australopithecus skull, and "Little Foot", an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton, more than 3-million years old, are amongst the most important.

Finds in other caves in the Cradle of Humankibnd, include 2-million-year-old stone tools and a collection of 270 burnt bones, showing that "man" harnesed the power of fire more than 1-million years ago.

The path leading away from the underground lake

It's a bit daunting reading the sign at the ticket office warning you of "very narrow entrances where you will have to squat or crawl", and advise you NOT to do the tour if you "suffer from asthma, claustrophobia or heart and other respiratory problems"!

Add to this the 115 steps you have to go down into the cave and then the 211 steps you have to climb up to get out!

I should mention though, that these deterents weren't enough to stop a young 80 year old Italian signora tourist in our group from going underground!

Part of the modern visitors centre with ticket office, shop, restaurant and interpretive museum

Numerous sinkholes allow both natural light and air into the cave and the temperature is a constant, cool 18 deg C. (65 F) with very little humidity.

I found the rubber mats that you walk on quite slippery when wet, so wear a decent pair of shoes.

The cave is lit with electric lights, but take your own torch (flashlight) or headlight.
Our guide, Norman, had one, but when I was further back in the group, I missed being shown into some dark areas

There are no places that you have to squeeze through, though you need to bend or crawl through a 1 metre (3 feet) high 'obstacle' at one point!

The last of the 211 steps that take you back to the surface

Once back on the surface, you can either go directly back to the Visitors Centre, or via a longer route past the excavations, that have been worked on continuously since 1966.

You walk on an elevated walkway, with a number of information boards, explaining, for example, the landscape and excavations.

The excavations on the surface above the caves that has been under continuous excavation since 1966

Back in the Visitors Centre, there is a restaurant that serves surprisingly reasonable meals and makes a very good cappucino!
The Sterkfontein Caves restaurant is open every day from 09h00-17h00 (9.00am-5.00pm)

The restaurant in the visitors centre that has some very reasonable food and makes a very good cappuccino!

Sterkfontein Caves
Sterkfontein Caves Road (between the R540 and the R563)
Cradle of Humankind
Sterkfontein Caves website

Page uploaded : 16th March 2013
Page updated : 16th March 2013

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