Plovers Lake

Plovers Lake is situated in the fossil-rich Cradle of Humankind region of Gauteng. The cave has been open since the late 1980s and thousands of fossils have been excavated from the site.

Plovers Lake is situated in the fossil-rich Cradle of Humankind region of Gauteng. Image courtesy of <a href='http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plovers_lake_external_2.jpg'>Professor Lee Berger</a>

Plovers Lake is situated in the fossil-rich Cradle of Humankind region of Gauteng. Image courtesy of Professor Lee Berger

Plovers Lake is located 4km southeast of Sterkfontein and Kromdraai, and is dated around 1 million years old, based on the size of porcupine fossils found at the site. The fossil-bearing cavity has been declared a South African National Heritage Site and is located about 36km north-west of the City of Johannesburg.

Historical background

Plovers Lake has had two periods of excavation – one in the late 1980s and early 1990s; and the second from 2000 to 2004. The first excavation is referred to as the "Outer Deposits", and was led by CK "Bob" Brain and Francis Thackeray. The second is known as "Inner Deposits" and was conducted by Lee Berger from the University of the Witwatersrand the Steve Churchill from Duke University.

The excavation of the Outer Deposits unveiled a fossil baboon which had survived a saber-toothed cat attack. During the excavation of Inner Deposits, Berger and Churchill later discovered 25,000 fossil remains during the second excavation – including knives, spear points, tools and fragmentary hominid remains.

Places of interest

The Cradle of Humankind area boasts 13 excavation sites that are recognised as national heritage sites, both internationally and by the South African Heritage Resources Agency. For those wanting to experience the birthplace of humankind firsthand, the official visitor centres for the Cradle of Humankind, Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves, are within an easy hour’s drive from Johannesburg.

Tumulus Building at the Maropeng Visitor Centre, Cradle of Humankind. Image courtesy of <a href='http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cradle_of_Humankind#mediaviewer/File:South_Africa-Gauteng-Maropeng01.jpg'>Wikimedia</a>

Tumulus Building at the Maropeng Visitor Centre, Cradle of Humankind. Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Maropeng is a world-class exhibition centre that focuses on the development of humans and our ancestors over the past few million years. On arrival, visitors are met by what appears to be a massive burial mound, the entry point into the secrets of humankind’s beginnings.

The Sterkfontein Caves, the site of the most longstanding, continuous palaeoanthropological dig in the world, are world-renowned for their fossil finds. These caves have produced the pre-human skull popularly known as “Mrs Ples,” and an almost complete hominid skeleton affectionately known as “Little Foot”.