Tanzania has got a number of quite important archaelogical sites, some of which have
played an important, even pivotal role in our understanding of early human evolution.
The title ‘cradle of mankind sometimes used in reference to Tanzania is no idle talk.
The Laetoli site is found in North Eastern Tanzania, about 45 kilometres (30 miles)
south of the more famous Olduvai Gorge.
This is the site of the now famous Laetoli footprints estimated to have been made
by a group of about two or three hominids (pre-historic people) 3.6 million years
ago. It is not known whether this was a nuclear family. The successful preservation
of the Laetoli footprints was facilitated by events at the time. A nearby volcano
(Sadiman), which is now dormant, had erupted covering the surrounding area with ash.
Rain which fell soon after transformed the layer of ash into a plaster-like surface.
It is onto this surface that these individuals walked, leaving a permanent stamp
of their little journey.
The famous footprints were first discovered by a team led by Mary Leakey in 1976.
The members of this early human species walked upright. The species was named Australopithecus
afarensis. Also found were footprints of about 20 animal species, some of them already
extinct. Skeletal remains of many of them have been found in the area. Professor
terry Harriman of New York University continues to research the area.
The Olduvai gorge or ravine is another important archaeological site found in the
Serengeti Plain in the Great Rift Valley in North Eastern Tanzania.
Hominid fossils found in the Olduvai Gorge which covers a distance of about 45 kilometres
(30 miles) number about 60. They have been found to cover an astonishing time span
of as early as 2 million years ago up to the relatively recent 15,000 years ago.
This is the longest lineage of human evolution found anywhere on earth, earning the
site the moniker ‘Cradle of Mankind’.
Olduvai Gorge has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1979. The name
Olduvai is a slight corruption of the Maasai word for a local sisal plant they call
‘Oldupai’. The Maasai live in this area.
The importance of this site cannot be overstated. The findings on what is known as
Bed 1 in the ravine include evidence of campsites and living floors complete with
stone tools. The fossil remains are those of the hominids Paranthropus boisei who
habited the area from about 2.6 million to 1.2 million years ago and Homo habilis
from around 2.5 million years ago but who appear to have died out about 1.6 million
years ago. Homo habilis remains have also been found to the north around Lake Turkana
in neighbouring Kenya complete with the primitive stone tools.
Important archaelogical sites in Tanzania
A close-up of the Laetoli footprint discovered in Northern Tanzania. It was approximately
3.6 million years ago when two members (or more) of the early human species Australopithecus
afarensis walked across the ashy surface which then concretised into a cement-like
surface preserving the prints for posterity. Above right is a picture of the trail
of the footprints and below is a video of the prints with explanation of how they
were formed over 3.6 million years ago.
Picture postcard: The beauty of Olduvai gorge (the proper name is Oldupai according
to the locals) is more than skin-deep. The ravine contains archaeological sites rich
in fossils and Paleolithic implements.