OLDUVAI (or OLDUPAI) GORGE
There’s a site in the beloved land of Tanzania better than any other place in the world “becomes a narrator” of the human evolutionary history: it is the site of the Olduvai Gorge, in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, on the border with the south-eastern savannahs of the Serengeti, where the deep rift of the African Rift Valley, scattered with volcanoes and craters, has created stratifications of different geological eras that have given us precious relics of the ancestors of the human species.
It all began in the early years of the last century…
South of the Olduvai Gorge, also located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, is the site of Laetoli, studied in the 1920s by the German entomologist Kohl Larsen, who returns some fossils. In the 1970s, almost randomly, a team of researchers led by scholar Andrew Hill discovered the celebrated walk of three individuals, two adults and a child, or more probably, from recent research, one man and two women, belonging to the genus Australopitecus afarensis (the one to which Lucy belongs), impressed in the solidified volcanic ash of the nearby volcano Sadiman. The dating brings us back to 3.65 million years ago and testifies that these extinct ancestors of ours practiced bipedism as we modern men! The path, covered by about seventy footprints, is almost 27 meters long and is reproduced at the Olduvai Museum. Subsequent investigations by researchers of Italian universities have recently brought to light, a few tens of meters from this site, new footprints, always datable in the same period.
We now move further north to the shores of Lake Natron, in the region east of the Serengeti National Park, on the border with Kenya. In the locality called Engare Sero is located, lost in the volcanic plain between the lake, the volcano and the river, the largest site (about 300 m. square), of fossil footprints (more than 400) ever discovered in Africa. The human footprints preserved and imprinted in the rock of a torrent of volcanic mud, coming from the near Oldoinyo Lengai and solidified in prehistoric age, for some years have attracted the attention of scholars.The studies started in 2009, have led to great results (here we refer to an article by the important journal rivista Nature).
In summary, the analyses made by American scholars Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce of Appalachian State University and researcher Briana Pobiner of the Human Origins program have brought some evidence:
- The footprints were imprinted between 19,100 and 5,760 years ago (erroneously on the tourist guides they speak of 120,000 years ago)
- From a group of 17 people, mostly adult females traveling together
- Probably attributable to the species Homo sapiens (ours)
- They were looking for food (foragers)
- From this it can be inferred that there was already, within these human groups, a sexual specialization in the search for sustenance.
The site can be visited, there are no barriers, but it is not easily identifiable. During the excursion to the shores of Lake Natron, we advise you to be accompanied here, for a few dollars, by a guide of the Maasai, since the honor of the discovery, which occurred in 2006, is up to them.
ISIMILA STONE AGE
Another impressive site is located near Iringa (250 km south of Dodoma, in central Tanzania). Also in this case historical and naturalistic interests find a perfect union. In this valley, inhabited already 600,000 years ago by homo habilis and erectus, were made finds of artifacts dating back to about 100,000 years ago and now kept in the small museum at the entrance of the site and can be visited with a few euros. Even the naturalistic walk in the valley is exciting: a landscape characterized by high stone columns appears suddenly and seems to wander immersed in an alien world. The singular formations have been excavated by the slow erosion of the waters that over millions of years have “worked” the earth sculpting canyons and rock cathedrals of impressive suggestion. Not to be missed!
The ruins of Engaruka are located near the road that descends from the north at Lake Natron joins the village of Mto wa Mbu. A few kilometers of detour on unpaved road leads to this interesting archaeological site to visit with the help of a local guide to be able to reconstruct, through the vision of the remaining traces, the life and the complex social and work organization of the people, perhaps the ancestors of the current Iraqwi of Lake Eyasi, which inhabited this land a few hundred years ago. The historical interest for this mysterious settlement that has been able to exist thanks to a sophisticated irrigation system, is also accompanied by the interest in nature and landscape: the gaze is lost here until it meets the escarpment of the Rift Valley and the imposing shape of the volcano Kerimasi, now extinct and, more in the distance, that of the Oldoinyo Lengai, the mountain of God, sacred to the Masai.
The rock paintings of Kondoa-Kolo take us back to a much closer past but equally fascinating.We are on the road from Arusha to Dodoma, south of Tarangire NP. Here in the small villages of Kondoa and Kolo, in a large area of the Masai steppe in central Tanzania, you can make excursions to archaeological sites, consisting of caves and hollowed-out spaces of rocky walls protected by projections that have preserved the paintings from the aggression of atmospheric agents. Not always easily accessible, they keep for thousands of years the figurative testimonies of the life of some tribes who lived in these territories: the Sandawe and the Rangi.
The representations are many and very well preserved and, also through the words of the guide, magically emerge from the past men, animals, rituals, dances, stories, passions and feelings.
There are two very evident pictorial styles: the oldest works, in red ochre, are more refined and depict a wide assortment of animals and people, often with large heads or hairstyles and engaged in a series of daily activities or rituals.
Other more recent paintings are made with white strokes and represent stylized human figures and geometric figures.
Already studied by the Leakeys and considered the best preserved representations of the whole continent, they seem to be realized in a period of time that goes from 6000 years ago (according to some scholars) up to 200 years ago.
It is definitely worth the effort of an uphill path and the deviation from the most beaten paths to be able to make these unexpected meetings and admire the birth from the color of the simple and authentic life of these indigenous peoples.
In a pristine natural setting, in this location south of the town of Iringa, you can admire rock paintings dating back to the Stone Age. Easily accessible via a unpaved path, they surprise for the chromatic effects and scenes depicting animals.Recently, they have been studied, also for better conservation, by the University of Chicago.
Near Bagamoyo, city north of Dar es Salaam on the coast of the Indian Ocean, a few minutes from the beach, you can visit the ruins of Kaole.Ancient Arab settlement of the eighth century AD, had great development from the thirteenth century to the nineteenth century, but then was abandoned and forgotten for over a century.Only in the middle of the twentieth century some scholars worked to bring to light what of the glorious past had remained. So today you can see the remains of an ancient mosque shirazita of the thirteenth century and the remains of some tombs. A small museum preserves some relics found by archaeologists.The historical visit can be combined with a naturalistic visit to the nearby Snake Park (reptile park), with activities and games for children.
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