Swartkrans Cave

Useful Information

Location: On Swartkrans farm. 9.5 km north-west of Krugersdorp. 1 km west of Sterkfontein Caves.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave dolomite limestone.
Light: n/a
Guided tours:
Bibliography: C. K. Brain and A. Sillen (1988): Evidence from the Swartkrans cave for the earliest use of fire. Nature 336, 464-466.
C. R. McMahon and J. F. Thackery (): Plio-Pleistocene Hyracoidea from Swartkrans Cave, South Africa. S. Afr. J. Zool. 29(1): 40-41
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1948 part of a mandible was found by Broom in a cave near Swartkrans.
1949 a cranium 1.5 to 2 million years old was found.
1948 to 1964 was dug intermittently.
1965 to 1986 full time excavations by Dr. C. K. Brain of the then Transvaal Museum, Pretoria.


Swartkrans Cave is a rather small cave, which was open to the surface about 500,000 years ago. At this time the cave was a pit into which hominid remains were washed by the rain. After some time the cave was completely filled with sediments which protected the lower levels from being destroyed.

The cave was a very productive site. Most of the hominid remains were from Australopithecus robustus. The excavations at Swartkrans Cave was mostly done by Robert Broom, a Scottish physician and devotee of Raymond Dart.

Histological and chemical analyses of fossil bones of a hartebeest (a kind of antelope) from the cave showed, that the remains had been subjected to temperatures similar to those of being cooked at a campfire. To proof this fact, the whole process was reconstructed, which is called experimantal archaeology.

This finding is the worlds oldest remains of a hominid using fire, either Australopithecus or Homo erectus. This fact made the site world famous.

The main excavations were made by Dr. C. K. Brain from the then Transvaal Museum, Pretoria. They took 21 years. Today most of the finds are shown at this museum, which is now called Natural History Museum.