Palaeo Tours visits the world-famous fossil sites of Drimolen and Sterkfontein. These sites are located in the "Cradle of Humankind", near Johannesburg and Pretoria South Africa. These two sites are two of the three richest sites in southern Africa and date to between 2.6-1.5 million years.
Drimolen is the third richest hominid site in the "Cradle of Humankind" and dates to between 2.0-1.5 million years. This site was discovered in 1992 and is already the third richest hominid site in southern Africa. On the 26th of April 2000, the most complete female Paranthropus robustus skull (nicknamed Eurydice) along with a complete male jaw nicknamed Orpheus) made world headlines. The site has already unearthed 79 hominid fossils, a wealth of faunal remains and some remarkably well-preserved juvenile and infant hominids. Visitors to Drimolen are afforded the unique opportunity to be among the first individuals to see fossils dating back to 2 million years coming to light! The rich fossil site of Drimolen provides an excellent opportunity to see an excavation in progress in the quiet and tranquil surrounds.
Palaeo-Tours offers the unique opportunity to visit the site of Sterkfontein with a scientist and not the normal, local guide. Sterkfontein is the the richest pre-human fossil site in southern Africa!
The first fossils at Sterkfontein came to light as early as 1936 and were the first adult Australopithecines or more specifically Australopithecus. Australopithecus africanus existed only in South Africa between 3.0 to 2.0 million years ago and was a very early hominid (i.e. a species that belongs in our family the Hominidae). It was the adult ape-men fossils from Sterkfontein that helped prove to the world that Africa was the cradle of humankind. Sterkfontein has fossil deposits dating back to 2.6 million years ago all the way up to 1.5 million years ago, providing a wealth of information about the different hominid species that existed in this 1.1 million year interval.
I have provided below a snapshot of some of the firsts yielded by Sterkfontein as well as some of Sterkfontein's major contributions to the study of our early human ancestry below:
- The 1st adult Australopithecine, Australopithecus africanus, that the world had ever seen, discovered in 1936.
- The most complete skull of Australopithecus africanus, or commonly and affectionately known as Mrs. Ples found in 1947.
- The 1st partial skeleton of any early hominid ever found, known only as Sts 14. It was found in 1947 and demonstrated without a doubt convincing proof that these early hominids walked upright, or bipedally.
- The first find of a fossil of our genus, Homo, or more specifically Homo habilis found in 1976.
- Fossils of more than 600 fossil specimens of one species, including both adults and children. This is a remarkable sample enabling scientists a look at a population of hominids instead of just a single fossil. It has allowed scientists to make inferences about the past demography, the variability of growth and development, the differences between the sexes and a whole host of other insights into this population group known from only 3 sites in the world and only from South Africa.
Sterkfontein has been intermittently excavated from 1936 to 1965, but in 1966 Professor Tobias of the University of the Witwatersrand initiated full-time excavations which continue to the present, 5 days a week. The site is amazingly still yielding up its secrets. The discovery recently of the almost complete skeleton of 'Little Foot', which made headlines around the world, bears ample testament to the wealth of information which is still to be gained from the cave deposits at Sterkfontein.