Sterkfontein

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Sterkfontein, Cradle of Humankind
Map showing the location of Sterkfontein, Cradle of Humankind
Map showing the location of Sterkfontein, Cradle of Humankind
Location in Gauteng
Location Gauteng, South Africa
Coordinates 26°00′56.36″S 27°44′03.46″E / 26.0156556°S 27.7342944°E / -26.0156556; 27.7342944Coordinates: 26°00′56.36″S 27°44′03.46″E / 26.0156556°S 27.7342944°E / -26.0156556; 27.7342944
Established Declared a World Heritage Site in 2000
Governing body Cradle of Humankind
Archaeologists in a structure above the entrance to Sterkfontein

Sterkfontein (Afrikaans for Strong Spring) is a set of limestone caves of special interest to paleo-anthropologists located in Gauteng province, about 40 km (23 miles) Northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa in the Muldersdrift area close to the town of Krugersdorp. The archaeological sites of Swartkrans (Afrikaans for Black Cliff) and Kromdraai (Afrikaans for Crooked Turn) (and the Wonder Cave) are in the same area. Sterkfontein is a South African National Heritage Site and was also declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 and the area in which it is situated, was named the Cradle of Humankind.[1][2] The Sterkfontein Caves are also home to numerous wild African species including Belonogaster petiolata, a wasp species of which there is a large nesting presence.[3]

Numerous early hominin remains have been found at the site over the last few decades. These have been attributed to Australopithecus, early Homo and Paranthropus.

History of investigations[edit]

Modern excavation of the caves began in the late 1890s by limestone miners who noticed the fossils and brought them to the attention of scientists.

It was not until 1936 that students of Professor Raymond Dart and Dr. Robert Broom from the University of the Witwatersrand began concerted excavations. In 1936, the Sterkfontein caves yielded the first adult Australopithecine, substantially strengthening Raymond Dart's claim that the skull known as the Taung child (an Australopithecus africanus) was a human ancestor. There was a pause in excavation during World War II, but after the war Dr. R. Broom continued excavations. In 1947 he found the almost complete skull of an adult female (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS_5 STS 5) A. africanus (or possibly that of an adolescent male). Robert Broom initially named the skull Plesianthropus transvaalensis (near-man from Transvaal), but it became better known by its nickname, Mrs. Ples. Mrs Ples is now defined as a member of A. africanus.

In 1997, a near complete skeleton of a second species of Australopithecus (StW 573) was found in the caves by Ronald J. Clarke; extraction of the remains from the surrounding breccia is ongoing. The skeleton was named Little Foot, since the first parts found (in 1995, in storage) were the bones of a foot. Excavations continue to this day and finds now total some 500 hominids, making Sterkfontein one of the richest site in the world for early hominids. The Palaeo-Anthropology Scientific Trust (PAST),[4] a non-profit trust fund established in 1993, sponsors over 90% of the research undertaken at Sterkfontein and was instrumental in its nomination as a World Heritage Site.

Dating of the deposits[edit]

The Member 4 deposits containing the Australopithecus africanus fossils have been dated to between 2.6 and 2.0 Ma, with the Sts5 'Mrs Ples' fossil estimated to date to between 2.05-2.01 Ma based on a combination of uranium-lead dating and palaeomagnetic analysis and electron spin resonance dating [5][6][7][8] The StW 573 partial skeleton (Little Foot) was recovered from a separate infill at the site within the confines of the Silberberg Grotto. It is estimated to be around 2.6-2.2 Ma based on a combination of uranium-lead dating and palaeomagnetic analysis[9] and belongs to a second species of australopith, Australopithecus prometheus. In contrast, surface exposure dating of sediments indicate that skeleton StW 573 has an age of approximately 4 million years.[10] While the flowstone dated in the uranium-lead dating has been shown to have formed later than the fossil an age estimate of ~3 Ma suggested by the same authors [11] has little firm basis.[12] The palaeomagnetic analysis [13] remains the most credible age estimate based on the current data as it included work on both sediments and speleothem.

A slightly younger deposit (StW 53 infill) dated to between 1.8 to 1.5 Ma has revealed the remains of a specimen of early Homo (StW 53). StW 53 has been described as similar to Homo habilis or as a novel new species Homo gautengensis.[14] No stone tools were associated with the fossil but StW 53 itself has evidence for stone tool cut-marks.[15] Member 5 contains Oldowan and Acheulian stone tools as well as specimens of early Homo and Paranthropus and is dated to between 1.6 and 1.1 Ma.[16]

Gallery[edit]

Entrance to the Silberberg Grotto containing Little Foot 
The underground lake in the Sterkfontein Caves. One diver has died in the lake 
A view down toward the lake in the caves 

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "9/2/233/0004 - Sterkfontein Caves, Zwartkrans, Krugersdorp District". South African Heritage Resources Agency. Retrieved 16 September 2013. 
  2. ^ "Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs". UNESCO. Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Keeping, Malcolm G. "Social Behavior and Brood Decline in Reproductive-phase Colonies OfBelonogaster Petiolata(Degeer) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)." Journal of Insect Behavior 10.2 (1997): 265-78. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
  4. ^ "Palaeo-Anthropology Scientific Trust". Retrieved February 2011. 
  5. ^ Herries, A.I.R., Shaw, J. 2011. Palaeomagnetic analysis of the Sterkfontein palaeocave deposits; age implications for the hominin fossils and stone tool industries. J. Human Evolution 60, 523-539.
  6. ^ Pickering and Kramers, 2010. J. Human Evolution
  7. ^ Herries, A.I.R., Hopley, P., Adams, J., Curnoe, D., Maslin, M. 2010. Geochronology and palaeoenvironments of the South African early hominin bearing sites. Am. J. Phys. Anthrop. 143, 640–646.
  8. ^ Herries, A.I.R., Pickering, R., Adams, J.W., Curnoe, D., Warr, G., Latham, A.G., Shaw, J. 2013. A multi-disciplinary perspective on the age of Australopithecus in southern Africa. In: Reed, K.E., Fleagle, J.G., Leakey, R. (Eds.) Paleobiology of Australopithecus: Contributions from the Fourth Stony Brook Human Evolution Symposium and Workshop, Diversity in Australopithecus: Tracking the First Bipeds. Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology series. 21-40
  9. ^ Herries, A.I.R., Shaw, J. 2011. Palaeomagnetic analysis of the Sterkfontein palaeocave deposits; age implications for the hominin fossils and stone tool industries. J. Human Evolution 60, 523-539.
  10. ^ PARTRIDGE T. C., GRANGER D. E., CAFFEE M. W., CLARKE R. J. – 2003. - Lower Pliocene Hominid Remains from Sterkfontein. Science 25 April 2003, Vol. 300 no. 5619, 607-612
  11. ^ BRUXELLES L., CLARKE R. J., MAIRE R., ORTEGA R., et STRATFORD D. – 2014. - Stratigraphic analysis of the Sterkfontein StW 573 Australopithecus skeleton and implications for its age. Journal of Human Evolution.
  12. ^ http://news.sciencemag.org/africa/2014/03/little-foot-fossil-could-be-human-ancestor
  13. ^ Herries, A.I.R., Shaw, J. 2011. Palaeomagnetic analysis of the Sterkfontein palaeocave deposits; age implications for the hominin fossils and stone tool industries. J. Human Evolution 60, 523-539.
  14. ^ Curnoe 2010
  15. ^ Pickering, Clarke & Heaton 2004
  16. ^ Herries, A.I.R., Shaw, J. 2011. Palaeomagnetic analysis of the Sterkfontein palaeocave deposits; age implications for the hominin fossils and stone tool industries. J. Human Evolution 60, 523-539.

References[edit]

Curnoe, D. (2010). "A review of early Homo in southern Africa focusing on cranial, mandibular and dental remains, with the description of a new species (Homo gautengensis sp. nov.)". HOMO — Journal of Comparative Human Biology (61): 151–177. doi:10.1016/j.jchb.2010.04.002. PMID 20466364. 
Herries, A.I.R.; Hopley, P.J.; Adams, J.W.; Curnoe, D.; Maslin, M.A. (December 2010). "Letter to the editor: Geochronology and palaeoenvironments of Southern African hominin-bearing localities—A reply to Wrangham et al., 2009. "Shallow-water habitats as sources of fallback foods for hominins"". American Journal of Physical Anthropology 143 (4): 640–646. doi:10.1002/ajpa.21389. 
Pickering, T.R.; Clarke, R.J.; Heaton, J.L. (2004). "The Context of Stw 573, an early hominid skull and skeleton from Sterkfontein M2: taphonomy and palaeoenvironment". J. Hum. Evol. (46): 277–295. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2003.12.001. 
Pickering, R.; Kramers, J.D. (2010). "Re-appraisal of the stratigraphy and determination of new U-Pb dates for the Sterkfontein hominin site, South Africa". Journal of Human Evolution (59): 70–86. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.03.014. PMID 20605190. 

External links[edit]