Olduvai Gorge

Last month archeologists and Tanzanians celebrated the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the “Early Man” fossils in Olduvai Gorge in a remote portion in Tanzania. There is a nice brand new museum funded by the EU and two huge replicas of skulls at the intersection of the dirt road that leads to the 45 km long archeological site. If there is a haloed spot in the search for our ancestors, it’s Olduvai.

We reached it after a two hour journey on bumpy roads through treeless dusty valleys on the northern side on Ngorongoro dotted with Maasai villages and herds of cattle, and then eventually the endless plains of Serengeti (it’s what the word “Serengeti” means).

Olduvai is a screwed up word for Oldupai, the wild sisal succulent that grows in the gorge. The Leakeys (mostly Mary) found fossils of early hominids from 1.9 million years ago, Homo erectus from from 1.2 m.y.a, Homo sapiens from 17,000 years ago, and the earliest stone tools. Add to that the fossilized footprints from Laetoli 45 km away which are, at 3.7 m.y.a, the oldest evidence of our ancestors rearing up on their hind legs. Olduvia provided us some of the earliest and most solid proofs of human evolution and put to rest “theories” of the earth being 6000 years old. It also showed us that we are all Africans. So in the big scheme of things I was just as interested that Vivian and Evan see this corner of the world as any lion or elephant or wildebeest. Evan posed beside a replica of Lucy (from Hadar in Ethiopia, 1,500 km up the Rift Valley) and seemed suitably impressed. I wanted to spend a few days here but in the interest of moving things along we hung out for a couple of hours during which I did my best to soak up the feeling that people go to The Vatican, Mecca or Bodh Gaya for. My faith lives in places like this. Aaah – the smell of scientific method in the air!

After several more hours of driving through dusty endless featureless plains filled with gazelles, zebras, ostriches, and an occasional hunting lioness, a brief stop at a rest stop that felt like it was out of a Mad Max movie, more bumpy dirt roads, and winding up a hillside, we suddenly appeared at a safari lodge where they welcomed us with chilled white towels and champagne. And an infinity pool with a view of a hundred miles of Serengeti under us. And a sunset from a Fauvist painting. Vivian echoed all our thoughts. “Daddy,can we spend the rest of the year here?”

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