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  • Writer's pictureJenni Foshey

Olduvai Gorge

Olduvai Gorge is located in the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania right between the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Though it is spelled “Olduvai”, the correct pronunciation is actually “Oldupai” (old-u-pie). Olduvai is a Maasai word for a sisal plant that inhabits the region, but when German neurologist, Wilhelm Kattwinkel, discovered the Gorge in 1911 he misheard the Maasai pronunciation and thought it was called Olduvai with a “v” and not Oldupai. Since then, Kattwinkel referred to the Gorge in his research and discoveries as Olduvai (which is not technically correct).




While studying abroad this past summer (2019) with SFS, we stopped here at Olduvai Gorge on our way back to camp from our Serengeti expedition. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got there. I was picturing a small rocky valley and that’s about it. When we arrived and entered and headed into the center, I was amazed. There was a giant theatre-like seating area that overlooked the Gorge. It was breathtaking. We all sat down, pulled out our packed lunches, and just ate overlooking the amazing view.




As we ate, we learned about the history and importance of Olduvai Gorge. It’s about 30 miles long and 295 feet deep (Zimmermann, 2013). Due to these measurements, it is too small to be considered a canyon.


This Gorge is extremely famous for its anthropological, evolutionary, and archaeological discoveries. Some of the earliest evidence of humankind was discovered here. Skeleton remains as well as early Acheulean tools like flakes and cutting tools that are almost two million years old were discovered throughout the Gorge. The discoveries of early human species in Olduvai Gorge has led to the current conclusion that humans evolved on the African continent.



Olduvai Gorge displays many rock and soil layers, which each tell their own historical story and have been places of special findings for archaeologists for decades. Volcanic events as well as water movement through the gorge has largely shaped the Gorge’s formation and has made different rock layers visible. Artifacts that were found gave input to ancient hominid lifestyles. Archaeologists were able to determine behaviors such as: hunting and scavenging, transport, labor, food, and communal living (Bunn, 1987). Bunn (1987) states that many bones. Were discovered and give intel to the diet of early hominids. Cut marks on bones can indicate hominids de-fleshing meat on animals, however just these cut marks alone cannot verify their entire diets. This evidence only predicts a primary carnivorous diet.


In all, Olduvai Gorge is a beautiful place to visit when in Tanzania. There is so much history on early humans and fantastic archeological discoveries. In addition to seeing the Gorge itself, there is a mini museum there as well which has artifacts and skeletons on display and gives lots of information on the Gorge and things discovered in it.




 

References


Bunn, H. T. (1986). Patterns of skeletal representation and hominid subsistence activities at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, and Koobi Fora, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution15(8), 673-690.


G Adventures (n.d.). Olduvai Gorge Tanzania Map [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.gadventures.com/trips/tanzania-safari-experience/DTTNG/.


Zimmermann, K. A. (2013). Olduvai Gorge: Oldest Evidence of Mankind's Evolution. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from https://www.livescience.com/40455-olduvai-gorge.html.

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