|Sterkfontein, Cradle of Humankind|
|Location||Gauteng, South Africa|
|Established||Declared a World Heritage Site in 2000|
|Governing body||Cradle of Humankind|
Sterkfontein (Afrikaans for Strong Spring) is a set of limestone caves of special interest to paleo-anthropologists located in Gauteng province, Northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa near the town of Krugersdorp. The archaeological sites of Swartkrans (Afrikaans for Black Cliff) and Kromdraai (Afrikaans and Dutch for Crooked Turn) (and the Wonder Cave) are in the same area. Sterkfontein was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 and the area in which it is situated, was named the Cradle of Humankind.
History of investigations 
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 (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), 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 
The Member 4 deposits containing the Australopithecus africanus fossils have been dated by a combination of palaeomagnetism, electron spin resonance and uranium lead methods to between .  A. africanus fossil Sts 5 (Mrs. Ples) is estimated to be between placing it in the early Pleistocene and identifying it as the youngest A. africanus yet discovered. 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 . A slightly younger deposit (StW 53 infill) dated to between 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.  No stone tools were associated with the fossil but StW 53 itself has evidence for stone tool cut-marks.  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.
See also 
- 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.
- "About Sterkfontein Caves". Maropeng Visitors Centre. Retrieved February 2011.