Olduvai Gorge, The Cradle of Mankind
Located on the main road that leads into the Serengeti, and typically featuring as a stop-off point on the journey to the lodge, Olduvai Gorge is better-known as ‘The Cradle of Mankind’ and is considered to be one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world.
Instrumental in furthering understanding of early human evolution, its excavation was pioneered by Louis and Mary Leakey in the 1950s. A steep-sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley, the gorge, which is about 50km long and up to 90m deep, runs to the north-west of the Ngorongoro Crater. Thanks to its unique geological history, in which layer upon layer of volcanic deposits were laid down in orderly sequence over a period of almost 2 million years, this world-famous site provides remarkable documentation of ancient life.
The most famous of Olduvai’s fossils is the 1.8 million-year-old ape-like skull known as Australopithecus boisei, which was discovered by Mary Leakey in 1959.The skull is also often referred to as zinjanthropus, which means ‘nutcracker man’ referring to its large molars. In 1972 hominid (human-like) footprints estimated to be 3.7 million years old were discovered at Laetoli, about 45km south of Olduvai Gorge. Based on these findings as well as other ancient fossils excavated in Kenya and Ethiopia, experts believe that there were at least three hundred hominid species living in this region about two million years ago, including Australopithecus boisei, Homo habilis and Homo erectus. While Australopithecus boisei and Homo habilis appear to have died out, it is thought that Homo erectus continued and evolved into Homo sapiens or modern man. There is a small and interesting museum just off the road to Serengeti (open until 3pm).