Discovering Early Man: The Olduvai Gorge

History Facts

Where: Olduvai Gorge, Rift Valley, Tanzania
 Site of prehistoric creatues and men, some 3 million years old
Discoveries: 1700 centuries old Nutcracker man with an axe and early human skeletons
Go there for: Epic sense of history of man

Ancient discoveries

There is a piece of Africa where mankind first emerged in the world – the Olduvai Gorge known as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’. It was in this area that Louis Leakey discovered the skull of theNutcracker Man, which dates back to over 1.7 million years old. He describes the Gorge as “spectacular, thrilling, awesome, beautiful, extraordinary….” . His wife, Mary Leakey went one step better and in the Gorge she discovered some footsteps dating back three million years.

Interest arose in the site in 1911 when German scientist Professor Katurinkle happened upon the gorge when looking for butterflies, and accidentally fell upon the skull of “Australopithecus-Zinjanthropus Boisei” more commonly known as the “Nutcracker Man”. In 1974, fossils of a 2.3 millions year old human relative known as “homo erectus”, a prehistoric man who used a hand axe tool, were discovered.

What’s the history here? 

The Gorge is situated in the Great African Rift Valley, stretching from the Dead Sea in the north to Beira in the south. The rift in the earth’s crust formed two highland regions separated by a valley sinking far below sea level. The main Olduvai Beds are in a lake basin sixteen miles wide. The rocks under the basin are a staggering 5.3 millions years old. Evidence of early campsites and a butchery over two millions years old have been excavated here. One of the beds dating back 17,000 years contained a complete Homo Sapien skeleton. These early ancestor made tools from stones near the lake and nearby hills.

Strange creatures never seen by modern man walked the earth here – hippos with eyes on stalks, giraffes with horns, dwarf elephants, and sabre toothed cats which lived around the lake.

Other things to see and do

Nearby the giant Ngorongoro Crater is home to East Africa’s most famous tribe, the Masai and a stunning range of wildlife.

By Susi O’Neill