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The Story Behind the ‘Cradle of Mankind’

In 1911, a German professor looking for butterflies accidentally came across prehistoric fossilized bones. That was only the beginning. In 1931 Louis and Mary Leakey began excavating this historical site. They discovered most of the fossilized human bones, stone tools and faunal remains.

For this reason, Olduvai Gorge is often referred to as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’, and has a museum that’s documented all its remarkable findings. It lies between the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti’s Naabi Hill gate, on the infinite plains, and is basically a crack in the flat earth.

Olduvai Gorge is a steep-sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley and is about 48km (30mi) long. The original spelling was Oldupai, which is Maasai for the wild sisal plant that grows there. Well-known for exposed deposits of fossil fauna, hominid remains (humans and relatives of humans closer than chimpanzees) and stone tools, this is an archeologist’s and paleontologist’s dream. In fact the history will be fascinating to anybody interested in these discoveries of man.

A fragmented skull of the ‘Nutcracker Man’ has been found here, dating back to 1.75 million BC. A year later, another skull and a set of bones were discovered. These were the remnants of a small, hunched, ape-like creature with a big brain that lived in Tanzania about 2 million years ago. Because stone tools were found nearby, he was nicknamed ‘Handyman’, and is believed to be our direct ancestor.

Then, in 1979, history was made again. Fossilized footprints of upright two-legged creatures (a man, woman and child) were discovered. More interestingly, is that they’re believed to be over 3.5 million years old. In total, 35 human remains and those of two prehistoric animals have been discovered in Olduvai Gorge, the animals being a Deinotheruium, an elephant-like creature with downward-curving tusks, and the Hipparion, a three-toed horse.

Photograph compliments of wikimedia

About Bronwyn Paxton

Article by: Bronwyn Paxton
on April 8, 2013
Filed under  Tanzania 
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