Encounter South Africa
What to do
Where to go
Article Archive
Travel Tools


Sterkfontein Caves- World Heritage Site




The Sterkfontein Caves - about 50 km from Johannesburg - is the site of some of the most important discoveries concerning the evolution of man and have been declared a World Heritage Site.  

If it's true that Africa is the cradle of all mankind - and most palaeontologists believe this to be so - then Sterkfontein Caves is surely one of the continent's sacred sites. Situated on the eastern side of the Krugersdorp-Hekpoort road (R 563), about 12 km north of Krugersdorp, the Sterkfontein caves have been described as the 'anthropological treasure-house of the world'.

Palaeontological significance aside, the caves are awe-inspiring, and a tour into their dark, chill, primeval depths leaves a lasting impression on visitors. Discovered by an Italian prospector Guglielmo Martinaglia, who was searching for gold and lime in 1896, this labyrinth of interconnected caverns was formed over millions of years by underground waters slowly dissolving the dolomitic rock. Now the water table has dropped and the spectacular eroded shapes of the dolomite can be seen as one walks through a vast chamber to an under ground lake which fills other extensive caves beneath its surface. Its tranquil, crystal-clear waters extend some distance into unexplored chambers.

Several interesting dripstone formations are to be seen; although, sadly, many of the cave's more spectacular stalactites and stalagmites were removed or damaged by early limestone-mining activities.

In one part of the cave, visited by tourists, is a portion of an ancient consolidated infill that collapsed about 2 million years ago from an older and higher cave. Above this infill is a long shaft which leads up to massive deposits which are currently being excavated by scientists. Other deposits being worked in one part of the underground cave system date back to 3 million years.

Part of the complex consists of six cathedral chambers, largest of which is the dripstone-decorated Hall of Elephants, 23 m (75 ft) high and 91 m (300 ft) long. Other chambers include Fairy Chamber, Bridal Arch, Lumbago Alley and the Graveyard.

Dr Robert Broom, of the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria, began excavations of the cave in 1936 and made several discoveries of bones and other fossils. His great find came in 1947 - the exceptionally well-preserved skull of a species of early man-ape which he called Plesianthropus transvaalensis, who lived about two million years ago. The skull was that of a female and became known as "Mrs Ples".

The species has subsequently been reclassified as Australopithecus africanus when the skull was positively recognized as belonging to the same species as the 'ape-child' skull discovered by Professor Raymond Dart at Taung in the northern Cape in 1924.

The caves form part of the Isaack Stegmann Nature Reserve and are owned by the University of the Witwatersrand. They are open to the public from February to December each year, six days a week. Tours are conducted every half-hour. Next to the caves is the Robert Broom site museum, housing exhibits of immensely ancient animal and bird life.

Contact & Bookings
Sterkfontein Caves is situated on the Sterkfontein Caves Road off the R563 approximately 10km from Maropeng.

The caves are open 7 days a week, tours are guided and run every half hour from 9am - 4pm. The tours are limited to 30 people. Closed on Christmas Day. Booking is essential

Tel : +27 (0) 14 577-9000
Email: info@maropeng.co.za



See ''Andre Martinaglia - Google'', The Life of Guglielmo Martinaglia, discoverer of the Sterkfontein Caves in 1896.

Posted by: Cav. Andre Martinaglia

I have been to Sterkfontein and it was really a exciting trip.

Posted by: sharon

Sterkfontein caves is an exciting place to go and it acknowledges our forefathers.

Posted by: neo

I have been here before and it was a good learning experience. Was the best place I have been to.

Posted by: munawwarah

We found the tour of the Sterkfontein caves rather dissapointing. The command of English from the tour guide was so poor that most of the information she provided could not be understood.

Posted by: Jan Middelink

Guglielmo Martinaglia discovered the 'Sterkfontein Caves', in 1896, whilst prospecting for limestone on the farm 'Zwartkrans', which was owned by Cooper, who's son later owned the old kiosk there.

''The Blast that paved the Way'', followed, and after the dust had settled a large dark hole was noticed.

Guglielmo's son Giovanni Martinaglia then returned bringing him water. ''Look'', said Guglielmo, taking his 8 year old so Giovanni around his shoulders and pointing with his right hand saying ''I have discovered a Wonderhole''.

A ''Wonderhole'' it really became, with the skull of''Mrs Ples'', being discovered by Dr. Robert Broom in 1947. Guglielmo unforunately never lived to see this event take place, passing away on the 5th January, 1929.

Posted by: Cav. Andre Martinaglia

Who discovered the Sterkfontein Caves?

Posted by: Cav. Andre Martinaglia

I really loved being at Maropeng. I felt so connected wit the past, at first I was scared but as time went on I really enjoyed myself. Evolution is my favourite part of biology .... we had such a good tour guide!

Posted by: Maureen




Copyright@ 1997-2013 Encounter SA