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Olduvai Gorge: Cradle of Mankind

Cutting across the Serengeti and Salei plains in an east-west direction is a narrow fifty- kilometre-long (31-mile) gorge. This is Olduvai, site of some of the most important fossil hominid finds of all time; unearthed remains of our ancestors that have raised as many questions as they have answered. Olduvai, or more correctly Oldupai (named by the Maasai for the wild sisal plant that is commonly found here), first came to the attention of Europeans in 1911 when a German entomologist, looking for butterflies, found fossil bones in the gorge Back in Berlin the remains were identified as being those of a prehistoric and now extinct horse, Hipparion. The Kaiser was sufficiently impressed to personally fund an expedition, led by Professor Hans Reck, to find more fossil bones. Unfortunately World War I put an end to Reck’s work.

Louis Leakey saw the Berlin bones and became convinced that Olduvai Gorge held something far more interesting than the skeleton of an ancestral horse. Gathering his tools and family, he began his first dig at Olduvai in 1931 and within a few hours of arriving at the site was rewarded with the discovery of stone tools. He continued excavations with his wife, Mary, for the next twenty-eight years, uncovering hundreds of stone objects and fossil bones.

Their hard and under-funded work finally paid off when Mary discovered the partial skull of “Nutcracker Man”, later named Australopithecus boisei, who lived 1.75 million years ago, and the later discovery of Homo habilis, or “Handy Man”, arguably became the most important and controversial homi- s nid finds of the time, fuelling academic debate about the origin of the first human for the next two decades.

It was at Laetoli, west of Ngorongoro Crater, that early human footprints which are preserved in volcanic rock from 3.6 million years ago. Three separate tracks are seen of a small-brained upright walking early hominid family.known as “Lucy” Australopithecus afarensis a creature about 1.2 to 1.4 meters high..

The prints of three hominins were miraculously preserved in muddy ash deposited by volcanic eruptions and hardened by the sun some 3.6 million years ago.

Made by feet little different than our own, they proved conclusively that these creatures stood and walked upright (bipedally) with a human-like stride a million years before the invention of stone tools and the initial growth in hominin brain size. It’s undoubtedly one of the most astounding and important scientific discoveries of our time.

A complete room of the Olduvai Museum devoted to the hominin footprint trail. The Olduvai Gorge Museum has  a variety of educational exhibits, including fossils of humans and extinct animals. There are also informative lectures, special guided archaeological sites tours, native handcrafts and a well-stocked bookshop.