New sites for humankind’s cradle

18 July 2005

The Taung fossil site in North West province and Mokapane’s Valley in Limpopo have been incorporated into South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site, which includes the fossil hominid sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and environs in Gauteng.

Together, the sites have been key to tracing humankind’s journey from its beginnings to the present day.

The extension was granted at the 29th session of the Unesco World Heritage Committee, which ended in Durban on Sunday.

Humankind’s cradle – The world’s richest hominid site, home to 40% of human ancestor fossils.

The committee seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of “outstanding value to humanity”.

Earlier last week, the Vredefort Dome, the world’s oldest and largest meteorite impact crater, was inscribed as South Africa’s seventh World Heritage site.

The Taung child
The incorporation of the Taung site comes from the significance of the Taung skull, the fossilised partial cranium of a juvenile hominid Australopethicus africanus discovered there in 1924 and identified by anthropologist Raymond Dart.

The Taung skull is an important link in human evolution. Australopethicus africanus – meaning “southern ape of Africa” – was a species of small hominids who lived 2.5 to 2.6-million years ago.

Probable ancestors of modern people, the little humans had an erect, bipedal or two-legged stance and gait, small canine teeth, and hands incapable of ape-like knuckle-walking but capable of a precision grip.

The discovery of the fossil was at first ignored due to the supposed significance of the Piltdown Man skull. When that find was later proved to be a forgery, the Taung fossil took its rightful place as proof that human evolution began in Africa, not Asia.

The Taung site exhibits the same characteristics as the other Cradle of Humankind fossil sites.

Mokapane’s Valley
Mokapane’s Valley in Limpopo has outstanding universal value because its many ancient caves and sites contain a long and unprecedented record of human occupation, from the first australopithecines over 3.5-million years ago to the present.

It also captures a technological record from the Early and Middle Stone Age to the Iron Age.

Animal fossils include those of extinct sabre-toothed cats, giant porcupines and hyraxes. Fossiled pollen grains and indigenous crops have also been found in the valley.

“We are pleased with the outcome following our application for extensions to the Sterkfontein Site,” said Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan. “They will leave a lasting legacy for many generations to come.

“We, as humanity and the progeny of this land, have a genealogy with which we can trace our origins and humanity’s journey from our very beginnings through to our evolution to modern times.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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