3 famous discoveries from the Cradle of Humankind

2015-09-10 07:26

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Johannesburg - As the University of the Witwatersrand announces a "groundbreaking fossil discovery of international importance" on Thursday, the world's attention will again turn to the Cradle of Humankind.

The world heritage site, which includes the famous Sterkfontein caves, has boasted several discoveries that illuminate the evolution of humans.

Here are three of the most significant discoveries made at the Cradle of Humankind:

1) Mrs Ples

The most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus was found in the Sterkfontein caves in 1947 by palaeontologists Robert Broom and John T Robinson.

The nickname came from one of Broom's co-workers from the scientific designation initially given to the skull - Plesianthropus transvaalensis (near-man from the Transvaal).

Mrs Ples was voted number 95 out of 100 great South Africans, in the SABC's Great South Africans television series more than 10 years ago.

2) Little Foot

In 1994, as Professor Ron Clarke was working in a workroom at Sterkfontein, sifting through animal bones he came across four foot bones which he realised belonged to an Australopithecus.

In 1997 he discovered more bones from the same fossil, in a box of monkey fossils.

According to the Cradle of Humankind's Maropeng visitor centre website, he gave his technical assistants Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe a cast of the broken shin bone, and asked them to search for the larger fossil that the pieces came from.

"Searching with only hand-held lamps, the two men astonishingly found the matching bone after just two days. It was embedded in breccia, deep inside the Silberberg Grotto."

The fossil is practically a complete specimen of an Australopithecus.

According to the Cradle of Humankind's Maropeng visitor centre, Little Foot fell into the cave more than three million years ago.

3) The Taung Child

Despite being 300kms away from the Sterkfontein caves, the site where the skull of an Australopithecus africanus was found was included in the Cradle of Humankind world heritage site listing.

According to the Maropeng site, the skull was discovered by chance in 1945 when a quarry worker at a mine at Taung delivered a box of rocks to Professor Raymond Dart at Wits.

He nicknamed it the Taung child.

Some estimates put the age of the child at 4, while others put the age at 6.

The fossil itself is two million years old.

Read more on:    wits university  |  cradle of humankind  |  johannesburg ­  |  homo naledi  |  palaeontology

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