Olduvai Gorge & Laetoli
Over the last thirty years or so, it has become increasingly apparent that Africa is probably the “Cradle of Mankind”. From Africa they spread out to populate the rest of Earth. Remains of the earliest humans were found in Olduvai Gorge.
Olduvai Gorge (originally misnamed Olduvai) is the most famous archaeological location in East Africa, and has become an essential visit for travelers to Ngorongoro or Serengeti. At Laetoli, west of Ngorongoro Crater, hominid footprints are preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 millions years old and represent some of the earliest signs of mankind in the world. Three separate tracks of a small-brained upright walking early hominid. Australopithecus afarensis, a creature about 1.2 to 1.4 meters high, were found. Imprints of these are displayed in the Olduvai museum.
More advanced descendants of Laetoli’s hominids were found further north, buried in the layers of the 100 meters deep Olduvai Gorge. Excavations, mainly by the archaeologist Louis and Mary Leakey, yielded four different kinds of hominid, showing a gradual increases in brain size and in the complexity of their stone tools. The first skull of Zinjanthropus, commonly known as ‘Nutcracker Man’ who lived about 1.75 millions years ago, was found here. The most important find include Home habilis, Zinjathropus and the Laetoli footprints.
The excavation sites have been preserved for public viewing and work continues during the dry seasons, coordinated by the Department of Antiquities. One may visit Olduvai at all times of the year. It is necessary to have official guide to visit the excavations. At the top of the Gorge there is small museum, a sheltered area used for lectures and talks, toilets and a cultural Boma. Local Maasai souvenirs are also available. Thus, Olduvai and Laetoli makes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area an important place in the world for the study of human origins and human evolution.
Laetoli is a site in Tanzania, dated to the Plio-Pleistocene and famous for its hominin footprints, preserved in volcanic ash. The site of the Laetoli footprints (Site G) is located 45 km south of Olduvai gorge. The location and tracks were discovered by archaeologist Mary Leakey in 1976, and were excavated by 1978. Based on analysis of the footfall impressions “The Laetoli Footprints” provided convincing evidence for the theory of bipedalism in Pliocene hominins and received significant recognition by scientists and the public. Since 1998, paleontological expeditions have continued under the leadership of Dr. Amandus Kwekason of the National Museum of Tanzania and Dr. Terry Harrison of New York University, leading to the recovery of more than a dozen new hominin finds, as well as a comprehensive reconstruction of the paleoecology.
Dated to 3.7 million years ago, they were the oldest known evidence of hominin bipedalism at that time. Subsequently, older Ardipithecus ramidus fossils were found with features that suggest bipedalism. With the footprints there were other discoveries excavated at Laetoli including hominin and animal skeletal remains. Analysis of the footprints and skeletal structure showed clear evidence that bipedalism preceded enlarged brains in hominins. At a species level, the identity of the hominins who made the trace is obviously difficult to precisely construe; Australopithecus afarensis is the species most commonly proposed.