top of page
  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

Cradle of Humankind Part 1

I recently paid a highly anticipated visit to the Cradle of Humankind here in Gauteng South Africa. There is an amazing interactive museum that displays fossils of hominids and other animals found in the area. Large underground caves are home to innumerable fossils of hominids and mammals alike. It is thought that the Sterkfontein caves have uniquely complete fossils because hominids would accidentally fall into the caves from holes 40-60m high and die, and the conditions and lack of predators to carry off any bones created the ideal set up for fossil development.

Picture life more than 30 000 years ago. No, there are no dinosaurs to try hide from, in fact modern day humans were already pretty well established across the globe. We had closely related hominids (human like mammals), called Homo neanderthalensis which looked pretty similar to us, in Europe. In fact, most people today who come from European ancestry have Neanderthal DNA! This implies that there was successful interspecies breeding going on back then. Some of the genes we got from this exchange helped humans to adapt to the change in diets and climates we faced later on. Neanderthals were actually very similar to humans of that time, they also walked upright, used stone tools, communicated with language and made art. Despite eventually going extinct, Neanderthals had larger brains than we did, hence the size difference you can see in the picture above! On the left is the skull of a Homo neanderthalensis and on the right is a skull of a Homo sapiens (modern day humans). Up next we’ll talk about some more distant relatives of ours and why it is important to know as much as we can about them. Till then, what do you think killed off the Neanderthals all those years ago?

See more about the museum at

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page