Olduvai Gorge – Secrets Revealed

View of Olduvai Gorge with large monolith on mound

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You might not expect to learn great mysteries of early humankind’s physical and social development in the middle of Tanzania but that is exactly what the ancient ravines here have gifted us. The dramatic sediment beds comprising Olduvai Gorge have offered up amazing discoveries of fossilized human remains and prehistoric tools – an incomparable record of our evolution over millions of years.

Known as the “Cradle of Mankind” because of the thousands of artifacts found in this great revealing amphitheater, you’ll find evidence here of the first human steps – preserved footprints in volcanic remains going back 3.5 million years.

The most important paleoanthropological site in the world, at Olduvai you can view our earliest stone tools such as simple chipped pebbles. But amazingly, moving up to the more recent sediment beds – a million or two years more recent – more advanced tools have been found, such as the hand axe.

Visiting the site, you may be lucky enough to witness an active dig, uncovering still more archeological treasures from our ancestors’ earliest years.

Who Found Olduvai?

The secrets Olduvai has revealed is a story that goes back millions of years but the actual story of the gorge’s discovery itself dates from the 1930s. That’s when two young scientists, Mary and Richard Leakey began digging at the site in hopes of uncovering ancient artifacts. They did eventually find some stone tools and a 25 million-year-old fossilized ape skull.

But the event that made international news came several decades later when one day in 1959 the Leakeys found sections of an early human skull, dating back almost 2 million years. This was followed by the discovery of hundreds of more bone fragments creating an almost complete human skull.

More astonishing still, the skull was of a completely new category of human not previously known. Here was proof of our oldest ancestor and that humankind had its origins in the forests, plains, and savannahs of Africa.

Archaeologists the Leakeys who specialised in researching Olduvai Gorge
Monolith made of red sediments in Olduvai Gorge

A Most Remarkable Accounting

Olduvai has been invaluable for two reasons: the astonishing amount of artifacts that have been discovered in this ravine; but also, how nature has organized, preserved, and finally presented these discoveries.

The site is created from four layers or beds, the lower ones naturally being the oldest. This has formed a natural record of discovery and connection. For instance, the oldest beds show our earliest activity as evidenced by gnaw marks on bones that predate the cuts made with our simplest tools. Moving up to the higher or more recent sediment beds we find a progression to more advanced tools.

So complete is this record of artifacts that scientists have noted collections of tools and animal remains in centralized areas, showing humankind’s developing social abilities – the desire to cooperate within a society. And this suggests the evolution of our early cognitive abilities.

There is so much to witness and learn at this world-renown site one should include it on any northern Tanzania safari journey.

The gorge features guided tours and a comprehensive museum with interactive exhibits further illuminating the incredible finds at Olduvai that have strengthened our understanding of early humankind.

A visit to Olduvai is the perfect pause on your safari to reflect on how we have evolved alongside the wildlife and survived in the fields and forests of Africa.

Discover More About Ol Duvai Gorge

Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Olduvai Gorge

AOlduvai Gorge is located in the eastern Serengeti Plains in northern Tanzania, East Africa. It lies within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, approximately 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the world-famous Ngorongoro Crater.

Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world. It has yielded numerous fossil remains and stone tools that provide valuable insights into human evolution and the ancient history of our species. The gorge has played a crucial role in shaping our understanding of early hominids and their behaviors.

Olduvai Gorge was discovered by a team of scientists led by Louis and Mary Leakey, prominent paleoanthropologists, in the 1930s. They recognized the area’s potential for containing important fossil evidence and initiated extensive excavations that continue to this day.

Olduvai Gorge has yielded fossil remains of various early hominid species, including Homo habilis and Australopithecus boisei. Some notable discoveries include the famous “Zinjanthropus” (now classified as Paranthropus boisei) and the Homo habilis skull known as “OH 7” or “Twiggy.” Additionally, numerous animal fossils have been found, providing insights into the paleoenvironment and the diet of early hominids.

The fossils found in Olduvai Gorge date back to different time periods, ranging from about 2.1 to 1.8 million years ago (Ma). These fossils represent an important window into the early stages of human evolution and provide valuable information about our ancestors’ anatomy, behavior, and adaptations.

Yes, visitors can explore Olduvai Gorge and its surroundings. There is a visitor center at the site that offers exhibits and information about the area’s significance. Guided tours and walks are available, allowing visitors to see the excavation sites and learn about the ongoing research. However, it’s essential to check the current regulations and access restrictions, as they may vary.

Olduvai Gorge is not part of a national park but falls within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a protected area managed by the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority. The conservation area encompasses various habitats, including the Ngorongoro Crater, the highlands, and the Serengeti Plains.

Yes, there are accommodations available near Olduvai Gorge. Lodges, campsites, and safari lodges can be found within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, providing options for visitors to stay overnight and explore the area at their leisure.

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