Monday, 8 October 2012

Oldupai Gorge -- The Cradle of Mankind

My husband first heard about Oldupai Gorge  as a child reading National Geographic.  He was so enthralled with it that he went to college to further study geology.  While his career has changed, his love of geology, geography, and human evolution is deeply ingrained.  When we found out we would only be a few miles away from this location we took a detour to have a look.  I will admit I had not heard of this site before so this was all new learning for me.

For those who have heard of this site before you may have seen the spelling as Olduvai, however that is incorrect.  The German scientist who first reported on this site incorrectly pronounced the name, unfortunately the incorrect spelling and incorrect pronunciation has stuck.  Oldupai is a Maasai word for the wild sisal plants that grow in and around the gorge.

 Louis and Mary Leakey came to the gorge in 1931 and are credited with the idea that the first humans came from this area.  The Leakey's eventually discovered a creature that they named "Zinjanthropus", but which was later discovered to be a hominid species called "Paranthropus boisei".  Although a member of the hominid family, "Zinj", as it was known, lived approximately 1.6 million years ago and coexisted with "Homo hablis", one of the ancestors of modern humans.  Fossils for "Homo erectus" have also been found in Oldupai Gorge; in fact, Oldupai is the only place in the world where all of the major parts of the human evolutionary tree (Australopithecines, Homo hablis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens) can be found.

The area is home of the first hominid foot prints, which were left by a group of Australopithecines walking through the ash deposited by an erupting volcano.  Although their skeletal remains were not found, their footprints show that they belonged to the same species as "Lucy", the famous specimen discovered in Ethiopia.  This is a replica of that track
Unfortunately once the track way was exposed it began to be over run with trees, so in order to preserve the trackway it was treated and covered to save it for future study.

Here we read about an Japanese explorer who decided to re-trace the foot steps of humans and how they moved across the world.  This journey took him 10 years (he took breaks on and off) and he covered the distance by his own power only i.e. feet or arms.  I didn't take a picture of the map but it was incredible!  Yoshiharu Sekino began his journey from the tip of South America and travel thru 35 countries eventually ending up in Oldupai Gorge.  He traveled in reverse order of how it is believed the earliest people traveled and spread across the world.

One of the bicycles he used.  He also used canoes or kayaks when crossing water.  It was an amazing story.  I have been searching on line for the documentary he made of the journey but so far can only find it in Japanese.  I would love to read more about his adventures as it sounded fabulous:)
View overlooking the famous gorge

layered rock in the center is referred to as the Castle.  On the far side of the gorge (hard to tell in this picture) is the camp in which the scientist stayed for 4 months when working on this site.

This little guy scared the ### out of me as he, along with a dozen or more of his friends, were  roosting in the ladies toilet.  He looks upset that I disturbed him, but not as upset as I was to find him there.

I was disappointed to learn that most of the items recovered from the archaeologists were removed from the site.  So we were only able to have a small glance into the what has been found so far.  Hopefully the government of Tanzania is making sure all discoveries remain within their country and not taken outside of the country.


  1. I am learning so many things through your posts. I loved the pictures and the thoughts on your trip. I am amazed at all of it. What a hugs adventure this one is. By the way I will be really impressed if you can spell all of the hard words in this one without looking at the word.
    I hope your son is doing well.

    1. LOL nope can't spell the word without looking them up on the internet:) or asking my husband who can spell them without looking them up:)

  2. Amazing! I hadn't even heard of this place. Then I was telling my Husby about your post and showing him the pictures and he knew all about it. He thought your post and pictures were fabulous. That makes two of us!!!! Thank you for sharing!