Oldupai Gorge

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 Oldupai Gorge.

Oldupai Gorge is a site in Tanzania that holds the earliest evidence of the existence of human ancestors. Paleoanthropologists have found hundreds of fossilized bones and stone tools in the area dating back millions of years, leading them to conclude that humans evolved in Africa.

Olduvai is a misspelling of Oldupai, a Maasai word for a wild sisal plant that grows in the area. The gorge is located in the Great Rift Valley, between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park.  It is about 30 miles from Laetoli, another fossil-rich area.  Olduvai Gorge was formed about 30,000 years ago, the result of aggressive geological activity and streams.

The steep ravine is about 30 miles (48.2 km) long and 295 feet (89.9 meters) deep, not quite large enough to be classified as a canyon. A river cuts through several layers to form four individual beds, with the oldest estimated at about 2 million years old.

At Laetoli, west of the Ngorongoro Crater, hominid footprints are preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 million 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 Oldupai museum.

More advanced descendants of Laetoli’s hominids were found further north, buried in the layers of the 100 meters deep Oldupai Gorge. Excavations, mainly by the archaeologist Louis and Mary Leakey, yielded four different kinds of hominid, showing a gradual increase 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 million years ago, was found here. The most important find includes Home habilis, Zinjathropus and the Laetoli footprints.

A stop at Oldupai Gorge can be incorporated into any itinerary that includes the Ngorongoro crater and/or the central Serengeti.  No advanced notice is required to stop at Oldupai Gorge, you can let your guide know once you are on safari, but if you know you are interested in stopping let us know while we are designing your personalized itinerary so we can include it in the itinerary to be sure you get the opportunity to stop and visit.  A stop at Oldupai Gorge can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on your interests.

At Oldupai Gorge, you will have time to explore the museum and the surroundings.  The museum contains many artifacts and fossils along with information and history of the gorge.  Following the tour of the museum, you can take part in the outdoor presentation given by one of the guides of Oldupai Gorge.  

Note: The cost to enter the Olduvai Gorge museum is US $50 per person and will be paid directly by you upon your arrival at the museum.

Also, for those interested, there is an opportunity to have a more in-depth tour of the Oldupai Gorge which includes a hike down into the gorge with a guide.  This tour needs to be arranged in advance,  so be sure to let us know if you are interested in this tour when we are designing your itinerary.

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