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Contribution to the speleology of Sterkfontein Cave, Gauteng Province, South Africa

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Author(s): Martini,J.E.J. | Wipplinger,P.E. | Moen,H.F.G. | Keyser,A.

Journal: Speleogenesis and Evolution of Karst Aquifers
ISSN 1814-294X

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 3261;
Date: 2004;
Original page

Keywords: Speleogenesis | Sterkfontein Cave | South Africa

ABSTRACT
The authors present more data about the speleological aspect of the Sterkfontein Cave, famous for its bone breccia which yielded abundant hominid remains. They also briefly review the previous voluminous studies by numerous authors, which are mainly dealing with the paleontology, stratigraphy and sedimentology of the breccia. The present investigations were oriented to hitherto poorly investigated aspects such as detail mapping of the cave, its country rock stratigraphy and recording the underground extension of the basal part of the breccia body. The cave consists of a complex network of phreatic channels, developed along joints in Neoarchaean cherty dolostone over a restricted surface of 250x250m. The combined length of all passages within this area amounts to 5,23km. The system extends over a height of about 50m and the dry part of it is limited downwards by the water-table appearing as numerous static pools. The fossiliferous breccia (= Sterkfontein Formation) forms an irregular lenticular mass 75x25m horizontally by 40m vertically, which is included within the passage network. It crops out at surface and in the cave, and resulted from the filling of a collapse chamber, which was de-roofed by erosion. The present investigation confirmed that the cave and the Sterkfontein Formation are part of a single speleogenetic event. The breccia resulted from cavity filling by sediments introduced from a pit entrance, whereas many of the phreatic passages around it, which are developed at the same elevation, were only partly filled or remained entirely open up to present. This filling took place mainly in a vadose environment. Taking into account the age of the Sterkfontein Formation (>3,3-1,5 My, from base to top), the geomorphic evolution of the landscape and the context of other caves in the region, it seems that the cave might have started to form 5 My ago. It has been continuously developing up to present as a result of a slow drop of the water-table.
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