This morning I went on an awesome visit to Sterkfontein, guided through the subterranean parts of the excavations by site manager Dominic Stratford. What an impressive place! This was a slightly unexpected one for me, happily facilitated by Meredith Johnson of the Leakey Foundation.
Lest anyone think that the “caves” of South Africa are all collapsed and fully open to the air, here’s a photo of the tourist area of the Sterkfontein site:
You can get tours through this part of the cave from the Sterkfontein visitors’ center all day long. This is the easiest of the Cradle sites for people to see while they are here, and the small interpretive museum right at the site is very well done.
Deeper in the cave, Dominic took me through the Jacovec Cavern, which contains what may be the oldest fossil-bearing breccias at the site, and indeed may have produced the oldest hominins in South Africa:
This is really a stunning deposit, with the ladder going up, up, up to a fossil-bearing breccia that now comprises the ceiling of the chamber.
Paleoanthropologists who have visited the site before will no doubt remember the bronze statue of Robert Broom, gazing contemplatively at his reconstruction of “Plesianthropus transvaalensis”, based on the TM 1511 cranial remains (not, as I said in an earlier draft, the more famous Sts 5 “Mrs. Ples” skull).