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Cradle of Humankind Human Ancestors Dig  
South Africa

Blackened Paper

Join the search for our ancient human ancestors in the world at Sterkfontein and Kromdraai Caves in South Africa!

2024 Dates

September 14-27, 2024

14 days and 13 nights

(Inquire about additional dates and bespoke itineraries)

from

$7,799

ONLY 2 SPACES LEFT!

Ages: 21+

Participation is subject to availability and is at the full discretion of the dig location. Prices and dates dates subject to change. Terms & Conditions apply.

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About the Cradle of Humankind Dig in South Africa

The Cradle of Humankind is a world-renowned site for hominid discoveries and is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is considered to be the birthplace of humankind. With over 40% of the world's human ancestor fossils found here, it's a must-visit destination for anyone interested in human evolution. Join us on this incredible opportunity to dig at this location. We'll journey through time and discover the fascinating story of our origins.

The cornerstone of this once-in-a-lifetime, exclusive itinerary is the distinction of working side-by-side on excavation and labwork with esteemed archaeologists Jose Braga, Berhnard Zipfel and Dominic Stratford. These are the scientists leading hominid excavations at the world renowned Kromdraai and Sterkfontein archaeological sites at the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa.

It is at the Cradle of Humankind that thousands of hominid remains from 2 to 4 million years ago have been found. In addition, the remains of habitation from early stone-age, middle stone-age, later stone-age, early and late iron-age are present. All told, these fossils show how our human ancestors lived, what they ate and what animals and plants existed with them.

Ancient Odysseys is proud to offer this exclusive itinerary in partnership with GENUS Paleosciences and Safari Odyssey.

On this expedition, a portion of your fees fund bursaries for black female South African paleontologists. However, all the digs featured on Ancient Odysseys are non-profits and rely upon visitors and donations to continue their important scientific work. Please consider donating if you would like to support this organization's mission. All donations are tax deductible.

The Researchers You Will Be Working With On This Tour

Day 1 | Arrival in Johannesburg 

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Today marks your arrival in Johannesburg, South Africa where you will proceed straight through to South Africa’s flagship fossil landscape: The Cradle of Humankind.

But first, welcome to Jozi – our multi-faceted city of Johannesburg.  On our drive-through, you may notice just how life through the integration of cultures has become the norm over time, perhaps more so here than in any other part of Africa.

Truly cosmopolitan, Johannesburg hosts something of everything – forested city, trees and concrete, urban, industrial & corporate trade, an infusion of culture, entertainment, heritage sites, modern architecture, academic and street-wise, western, traditional and inhabitants from every corner of Africa, poor and polar opposite wealthy.

On the first evening, the most important discoveries of recent years will be presented by Prof José Braga

Accommodation: Kromdraai Guest House

Meals: Welcome Dinner

Days 2-6 | What to Expect | Kromdraai Excavation with José Braga

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This trip is chock-full of dig time! We'll kick off our first day on-site  working alongside Prof José Braga who will provide insight into the workings of Kromdraai – a fundamental requirement for comprehending the diverse stages of the excavation process.

Under his supervision, your 5 days of work in the field will encompass everything from excavating and the retrieval of fossils to sampling and sieving sediments, meticulous cleaning and preparation in the lab, theodolite and photogrammetric measuring, followed by cleaning and complete preparation.

 

All participants who join this dig will be hands-on during the five days of excavation. Kromdraai is very rich in fossils and as a result, each participant has a 100% chance of finding both hominid and animal fossils with a high potential for discovering significant specimens.
 

The fossil preparation lab is on-site (at the guest house where you will be staying), allowing for easy access to further participation in sorting, cleaning, measuring and marking fossils

Your daily tasks will include:

  • Excavation work takes place each day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a 1-hour lunch break.

  • Each participant is equipped with all tools needed, including a trowel, brush, shovel and bucket

  • Fossils found in situ are carefully located using a laser theodolite to record the exact location of all finds.

  • All removed sediment will be sieved to make sure that no fossils have been missed.

  • You will also be invited to work in the on-site fossil preparation laboratory to clean and mark the finds made during the excavation. 

 

Accommodation: Kromdraai Guest House​

Meals: Breakfast, Packed Lunch and 3 Dinners, 2 dinners are on our own 

About Kromdraai

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  • Top Features:  First members of human genus, Paranthropus robustus type species for the genus Paranthropus, P. boisei, large carnivores.

  • Period: Early Quaternary (Pleistocene)

 

The Kromdraai archaeological site (UNESCO) is one of the most prolific hominin-bearing sites in South Africa—and one of the most important. Here, some of the earliest known members of our human genus, as well as other closely related creatures referred to as paranthropines have been uncovered. This is a genus of extinct hominin which contains two widely accepted species: P. robustus and P. boisei. To date, almost 29 hominin specimens have been found, as well as bone/stone tools, and over 6,000 fossil assemblages of animals such as carnivores, antelopes, and birds.

 

Over the course of this week, you will join Professor Braga and Dr. Zipfel to conduct archaeological dig work at Kromdraai. This excavation is akin to opening a time capsule that dates back around 2.3 million years, providing a glimpse into a period roughly 23,000 centuries ago during the Early Quaternary. And indeed, to this day, Kromdraai continues to yield fossils.

 

How you will contribute to science and why Kromdraai is important to researchers.

As a UNESCO site, Kromdraai is deemed important for the protection and preservation of its cultural and natural heritage and is considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. In essence, Kromdraai belongs to everyone. Your work and financial contribution is essential to supporting the site and local initiatives, in particular by promoting employment for residents during the excavations.

 

The archaeological findings at Kromdraai are helping researchers to answer several intriguing questions. Firstly, the aim is to unravel the factors that set our human ancestors apart and made them distinct within the evolutionary timeline. Additionally, the investigation will reveal  climatic shifts and other influences that might shed light on the emergence of the first humans during that ancient period.

Day 7 | Visit to The Evolutionary Studies Institute & Origins Centre | Vault Tour & Ochre Workshop

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Your first week of exploring the The Cradle is complete and today brings a change of scenery as we depart on a morning visit to the academic hub of Palaeo studies in South Africa, WITS (The University of the Witwatersrand).

You will first visit  the iconic Evolutionary Studies Institute at WITS University where you will meet Dr. Bernhad Zipfel, University Curator of Fossils and Rock Collections - Evolutionary Studies Institute for a tour of the center’s fossil hominin collection. You’ll be introduced to the history of the collections and have the privilege of seeing  some of the world’s most important hominin fossils with an exclusive introduction to “The Vault.” These include the original Taung Skull-holotype of Australopithecus africanus (arguably the world’s most valuable fossil), selected specimens  from Sterkfontein eg. Little Foot, Malapa (Australopithisus sediba) and Rising Star (Homo naledi).

 

We'll break for a lunch together at the WITS Club's Olives & Plates Restaurant, whimsical, cozy and scenic, the perfect spot to unwind from a rather rough week out in the sun! 

We'll then head to the innovative Origins Centre Museum – home to ancient stone tools, artefacts of symbolic & spiritual significance and some visually striking rock art – followed by a short workshop on the ancient, and still current, use of ochre in Southern Africa.  Your host is the dynamic Dr Tammy Hodgskiss.

Accommodation:  Sunday-Thursday at Kromdraai Guest House​; Friday night in a luxury tent at Cradle Boutique Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. 

DAY 8 & 9 | Hot Air Balloon Safari | Magaliesberg Cableway | Cheetah Centre | Sunday-Day of Leisure

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Saturday

The greater Cradle area is a treasure trove of experiences and we'll be moving accommodations for the weekend to the Cradle Boutique. 

Saturday starts with an early morning game drive across this ancient landscape, while the middle of the day allows for time at the lodge which is within the Greater Cradle Nature Reserve. Consider visiting The Human Origins Tour, The Mapala Museum Experience or perhaps a guided bush walk.  In the afternoon you’re invited to another game drive, followed by dinner and a slow wind-down of the week.

 

Sunday

An early morning rise is well worth the fresh African bush air and crisp images that you will take in from your Hot Air Balloon Safari,-– a fine way to orient yourself to the landscape that you have been exploring. This will be followed by breakfast at your landing site. From this elevated high, we’re back on the road and on our way to an educational visit at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre which serves as both a rehab and breeding facility.  Most interestingly they also host packs of endangered wild dog (the shrill laughter of which you will forever remember) and the very rare King Cheetah.  You may even find yourself the adoptive parent of a wild child! 

 

A lunch stop of Silver Orange Birch (on your own) is followed by a mid afternoon Harties Cableway ride to the top of the Magaliesberg Mountain Range, from where you’ll view one of the largest man-made dams in South Africa, the Hartebeespoort Dam.  In the 80s & 90s this part of the mountain range was a hotspot from which hang-gliders would launch themselves.

 

It's been a busy week so far and another lying ahead. Once we transfer back to the Kromdraai Guest House, you'll be met by Prof Dominic Stratford who will lead you into your upcoming week of Sterkfontein explorations under his guidance.

Accommodation: Cradle Boutique Hotel and Kromdraai Guest House​

Meals: Saturday: Breakfast and Dinner. Lunch is on your own.

Sunday: Breakfast included. Lunch and Dinner are on your own. 

Days 10-13 | What to Expect | Sterkfontein with Dominic Stratford

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All participants who join this dig will be hands-on during the two days out in the field and the two days in the lab. 

For the first two days, you'll be working under the close guidance of Prof. Dominic Stratford, You will be working at the Sterkfontein site where you will learn about the geology and paleontology of the location. The majority of your time onsite will be spent assisting in the important sorting of microfauna found at the site which adds to our knowledge of the animals that called this site home over the millennia.

 

During the lab days, you will contribute to the collections, documentation and taphonomy identification process of the finds of six-million-year-old fossils of monkeys, antelope and carnivores.

Your daily tasks will include:

  • Excavation work takes place each day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a 1-hour lunch break.

  • Sorting microfauna found at the site.

  • ​Labwork including taphonomy identification process and documentation.

  • Each participant is equipped with all tools and training needed.

  • Breakfasts and lunches are included with dinner on your own. 

Details about excavation at Sterkfontein can be found here.

During our time together, we’ll also visit Cooper’s Cave, where visitors walk through the site and can literally see hundreds of fossils embedded in the rocks around them. The fossils include animal remains, such as an extinct short-necked giraffe, hunting hyena and sabre-toothed cats and is and one of the richest sites for early stone tools.

Accommodation:  Kromdraai Guest House​

Meals: Breakfast and Packed Lunch each day. Dinner is on your own, with the exception of a Thursday Farewell Dinner

 About Sterkfontein

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The Sterkfontein Caves is one of the world’s richest fossil sites, with more fossils of early hominids than any other site on Earth. The hominids found here date back more than 4 million years and are the precursors of modern humans, the Homo sapiens. Sterkfontein has also yielded over 9,000 stone artefacts that are about 2-million years old, which are the oldest dated stone tools in Southern Africa. 

 

Researchers have concluded that this landscape played host to the birth of humanity. Studies here help us to understand the earliest ancestors of the human race, giving us an insight into how man and nature have existed and changed over millions of years.

How you will contribute to science.

By joining this current excavation, your work will add to the more than 500 hominid finds made thus far at Sterkfontein.

What to Bring for the Hominid Digs

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You will be working under the supervision of the paleontologists, but the tasks associated with working on an excavation can involve certain risks.

 

Excavation work may involve difficult conditions, uneven terrain, unanticipated natural hazards, use of digging equipment, and  manual labor.  A general level of fitness is necessary for excavations, such as long walks, sometimes over uneven ground, walking up and down steps and inclines, kneeling, filling and carrying buckets of soil and stones. All outdoor activities are subject to the weather. 

Kromdraai and Sterkfontein are at an altitude of 1470 meters, with a temperate climate with cool evenings.

  • Comfortable clothes for the excavation.​

  • Hiking or work boots

  • Work/gardening gloves 

  • Sun hat

  • Sunscreen

  • Camera

  • Notebook

  • Civil and medical liability insurance.

Day 14 | Departure 

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On this, your final morning, we'll have breakfast and then check out and transfer to the airport or other destinations.

 

If you opt to extend your visit to a vacation to experience more of Africa’s finest, we suggest Cape Town, The Kruger’s Big 5, The Garden Route, and  the Kalahari Desert.  Travel on to Kenya’s Masai Mara and Serengetti to view the Great Wildebeest Migration, Uganda or Rwandas wild Gorillas or the beaches of Zanzibar, Mauritius or the Seychelles . .  or anything else you may have in mind! We are happy to assist with further travel plans to suite your interest. 

Meals: Breakfast

tri cost
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Includes:

  • 13 nights’ accommodation as per itinerary

  • All transfers via private bus with leader and tour guide

  • Presentations, private tours and excavation days with the researchers & site permit holders.

  • Meals as mentioned

  • Activities as indicated in the itinerary

  • Water and rehydrates on expedition days

  • Mandatory gratuities and service fees to driver, tour guide, game ranger, tracker and waiters.
     

Excludes:​

  • Meals and beverages not mentioned

  • Travel and medical insurance (mandatory proof needed)

  • International flights. However,  we are happy to assist you with international flight arrangements if needed.

  • Guide services other than specified

  • Visa fees and departure tax 

  • Alcoholic beverages

  • All other travel necessities / requirements such as vaccinations (eg. Yellow fever & Covid-19), valid passports and visas, for travel from point of original departure through to the final destination, are strictly the responsibility of the individual traveller.  No refunds will be granted if the individual traveller fails in securing the necessary requirements.

 

Fees and Cancellations: 

  • A 3.5% credit card fee will be charged per person total for credit cards. If payment is made via SWIFT transfer, the payer is responsible for all banking transaction fees. Any shortfall will be reinvoiced until the total selling price has been received.

  • For cancellations, US $2,500 will be retained once a booking is confirmed and deposit is received  Any banking fees for refunds will be for the account of the individual traveller.

  • No refunds will be granted if the individual traveller failed in securing the necessary requirements timeously.A 100% cancellation fee is applicable 3 months or less prior to start date of travel. 

14 days/13 nights

September 14-27, 2024

From:

US $7,799

A portion of your fees fund bursaries for black female South African paleontologists!

Pricing is based on a 6-guest minimum, double-occupancy. Single traveler price is from $8,499.

Travel logistics managed by Safari Odyssey.

  • Rates remain subject to change until such time that full and final payment has been received and confirmed by Safari Odyssey. Rates can change based on availability, exchange rates and changes implemented by service providers.

  • A deposit of $6,800 for shared room or $7,500 for single is due upon booking.

  • Final balance is due June 14, 2024. 

 

Add a custom travel itinerary before or after this dig!

 

You can also ask us about arranging a personalized dig date and itinerary to fit your schedule.

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