Africa. Sterkfontein Caves — Cradle of Humankind

Not far from the city of Johannesburg is a reserve "Cradle of Humankind" — one of the most famous paleontological sites on the planet. This area covers about five square kilometers and is a complex of limestone caves, including the famous Sterkfontein caves (Sterkfontein Caves).

According to modern concepts, Africa is the cradle of humanity — it is here in the course of primate evolution under common ancestor of humans and great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, etc.). That's why this place was named so. Sterkfontein Caves became known after here, at a depth of 40 meters, in 1936 found the remains of Australopithecus — the oldest man in the world, who lived more than two million years ago. Also there were found fragments to more than 500 skulls and other skeletal fossils of ancient man, more than 300 fragments of petrified wood and more than 9,000 stone tools, which are among the earliest manifestations of human culture on earth.

The name sounds Sterkfontein for paleoanthropologists as Holywood for movie fans. Nowhere in the world has found the remains of many ancient people, like here. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO made the area with more than a dozen caves called "Cradle of Humankind" World Heritage List.

What is the beauty of the caves? What attracts thousands of tourists?

Anyone who has ever seen the stalactite cave, it finds there is probably nothing new. These dungeons are valuable primarily for its history, events that are associated with them. The first cave began to form about 20-30 million years ago, at the level of 50-60 meters from the surface. Dolomite, which formed the rock in these places, gradually collapsing under the influence of ground water containing calcium carbonate. Over millions of years in the halls of the caves were formed fanciful arches, columns, stalagmites and stalactites that resemble giant icicles. In the back of one of the caves hidden lake, the water of which the local tribes believe that the miraculous and used in medicinal purposes.

In the twenties of the last century XX in South Africa, the first fossils were discovered, scientists are very interested. The most famous discovery — it found the fossil skull of a juvenile, called the "Taung child» (Taung Child). Actually since it all started.

Find the skull, "Taung child" was made in 1924 in the town of Taung quarry pits in the province of Transvaal (now North West Province). At first, he was considered a monkey skull, but the South African scientist from the University of the Witwatersrand anatomist Raymond Dart (Raymond Dart) realized that this is a new, previously unknown type of science, one of the ancestors of modern man. A scientist has determined that the skull belonged to a child of about 6 years. Foramen magnum, which serves to exit the spinal cord, which is located on the bottom of the skull, indicating that the straightening of the body and bipedal gait. Brain volume was 520 cc (for comparison chimpanzee does not exceed 480 cubic centimeters). The scientist noted that the skull no pronounced brow ridge, and his teeth are somewhat similar to the human. The development of the occipital, parietal and temporal lobes indicates the presence of associative areas in the brain and complex behavior of the organism. R.Dart dubbed the find "missing link" in human evolution. On the basis of the found in the same animal bone remains, he concluded that the age of discovery about a million years. This was the essence of the growth of a little more than a meter and weighing about 20-24 kg.

Scientist posted an article about the discovery in the prestigious British scientific journal «Nature». In it, he argued that the "sample" is of great importance, as is an extinct breed of monkeys, which was a transitional form between modern and ancient man. " His discovery, he gave the name Australopithecus (Australopithecus africanus) — «southern ape of Africa"

The remains of another species of ancient man found a friend and follower R.Darta Robert Broom. This significant discovery occurred in 1938 in Kromdraai (territory of the reserve "Cradle of Mankind"). When blasting, he found the wreckage of the skull, but with some unique features that distinguish it from Australopithecus africanus. Analysis of the findings allowed Broom highlight it in a separate genus — Paranthropus (from grech.Paranthropus — a relative of the person).

Find Robert Broom really helped Raymond Dart, since up to that time, the global scientific community did not want to recognize the opening of Australopithecus. From then until the present day in the "Cradle of Mankind" conducted various studies.

Found randomly on fossil bone remains of stone tools or give us only scraps of information about the ancient man. But accidental finds on the surface may lead to the discovery of bones, household items that relate to the same place and time, and are well preserved in ancient sediments. Careful excavation of such sites can give us full details of our ancient ancestors and their way of life, age and environment.

Excavations usually begin with a detailed photographic section, which is to be investigated. Paleoanthropologists and archaeologists divide its grid whose cells have a side length of 1 m First collected findings, appearing on the surface. Then, dig the squares in the form of blocks or trenches exposing deposits one layer at a time. To remove the overlying rocks can be used picks and shovels. Then the work slows down, because searchers are beginning to act scoops and chisels. Probes and brushes remove host rock, adhering to the subjects, and by means sitechek separate small teeth and bone fragments.

Working carefully numbered each fossil remnant, household items, or stone, mark its location on the map and write down, in which layer it was found. Fragile items cover protects substance.

In April 2010, a research team led by Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, found the remains of a previously unknown species of humans, which may be an intermediate between Australopithecus and Homo habilis (Homo habilis). The authors did not report finding what parts of the skeleton are preserved to this day and how well they were able to examine the find. However, if the first assumption paleoanthropologists are confirmed, it will be one of the most important discoveries in the history of science, and the name of Lee Berger will get all the textbooks and books. The fact is that to this day, despite the huge number of finds, many periods of human evolution have to restore the fragments of the skeleton.

Today the Reserve "Cradle of Mankind", which are the Sterkfontein Caves — one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Africa. Sterkfontein Caves declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every person who visited this place has to understand that he touched the amazing and make every effort to preserve and pass on their invaluable wealth to the next generation.

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