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Tanzania to mark 50 years of milestone discovery of origin of man

Apolinari Tairo, eTN Staff Writer  Jul 28, 2009

DAR ES SALAAM - Tanzania is set to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the milestone discovery of the skull of the oldest man in the world that was made by Africa’s famous archaeologists, Dr. Louis Leakey and his wife Mary, in the excavation area of Olduvai inside Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA).

Celebrations and a conference that will take place in mid-August of this year will attract famous historians, archaeologists, and natural history scientists from all over the world to visit the excavation site at Olduvai Gorge where the Leakeys discovered the skull believed to be of the earliest man on earth, dated over 1.75 million years ago.

The Leakeys’ work in Tanzania changed the knowledge of the evolution of mankind and of history.

“We are naturally proud that Tanzania was the site of this significant discovery,” once said Dr. N. A. Kayombo, director general of the National Museums of Tanzania.

It is hoped that the conference delegates will join tourists from around the world to visit and explore the excavation site at Olduvai Gorge, the actual place of the discovery of the remains of the early man and enjoy the natural wonders of the entire Ngorongoro Conservation Area, including the large numbers of wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater, often referred to by many tourists as the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

Tanzanian minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mrs. Shamsa Mwangunga, announced earlier this year that her ministry will host the 50-year anniversary to mark the discovery of the skull of Zinjathropus boisei at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

British archeologists, Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey, who were working in Kenya, discovered a humanoid skull with huge teeth that they named Zinjanthropus.

The excellent condition of the skull allowed scientists to date the beginnings of mankind to about two million years ago and to verify that human evolution began not in Asia, as previously thought, but in Africa. In keeping with the significance of this information, Olduvai Gorge is now known as “The Cradle of Mankind.”

Zinjathropus was later named Australopithecus Boisei, after Charles Boise who funded the Leakeys’ research. Two decades later, hominid footprints were found at Laetoli, south of Olduvai, and were dated to be older than 3.5 to 4 million years.

The conference and celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery will match together with exploration and research on new information of the origin of human beings, nature conservation, and other allied studies. A special workshop on Louis and Mary Leakey has been organized by the East African Association for Paleanthropology and Paleontology.

Sources from the organizing committee of the event told eTurbo News that famous Kenyan wildlife conservationist and palaoanthropologist, Dr. Richard Leakey, son of Dr. Leakey and Mary Leakey, will participate in the celebrations.

The management of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority has set all plans to welcome global visitors including tourists, natural history scientists, and researchers to explore the Olduvai Gorge and watch fascinating exhibits and lectures at the excavation site and the museum.

Among exhibits inside the Olduvai museum are hominid footprints preserved inside volcanic rock dated 3.6 million years old, representing some of the earliest signs of the small-brained, upright-walking man ever to be found somewhere else in the world.

Excavations at Olduvai Gorge are still going on and continue to produce splendid specimens of extinct hominids, animals, and plants. Since the Leakey discovery, examples of at least three species of hominids have been found their.

Other discoveries were the Homo habilis and Homo erectus which are said to be much closer to modern man. In addition, the two earliest stone tools were discovered at Oldowan and Acheulian. along with fossil remains of the earliest man. Both the fossils and the tools have been crucial to understanding human evolution.

Natural history scientists believe that the earliest man had a brain about 40 percent the size of modern man, were much more muscular, and measured about four to four-and-a-half feet tall. They may have primarily lived in wooded areas, eating grubs, meat, and plants.

Olduvai Gorge also remains the national and international icon of human origin studies and has been declared by the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) as a world heritage site.

The Olduvai Gorge, which is located some 250 kilometers west of northern Tanzania’s tourist hub of Arusha and roughly between the Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti national park, attracts about 60,000 visitors a year, most of them researchers and students from across the world.

Known as the “Last Garden of Eden,” Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in northern Tanzania’s tourist circuit has been seriously encroached by nomadic Maasai herdsmen looking for green livestock pastures inside the wildlife-populated and conserved land.

NCA was established in 1959 and was the working home for its founder and famous German zoologist, Dr. Bernhard Grzimeck, and his son Michael who together filmed the entire and modern conservation area and produced the thrilling wildlife film and a book “Serengeti Shall Never Die.”

The area supports high densities of wildlife throughout the year and contains the most visible population of the remaining black rhino in Tanzania. The NCA has over 25,000 large mammal including the black rhinos, elephants, wildebeests, hippos, zebras, giraffes, buffaloes, gazelles, and lions.

The crater is steep, 600 meters in depth, made by high natural walls that survived the volcano's subsidence or caldera. It covers 264 square kilometers, making it one of the largest, intact, and unflooded calderas in the world.

Every visit to the crater floor involves a precarious descent from the forested rim by a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The species listed as permanent residents inside the crater are giraffes, the black rhinos, ostriches, leopards, nocturnal animals, birds, and many other grass-eating mammals.

Tourist attractions and the importance of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are growing daily because of its idyllic nature and landscape made up of the crater and the wide plains outside the crater rim, which add more tourist-attractive scenery there.

Tanzania to mark 50 years of milestone discovery of origin of man
The late Louis Leakey measures skull found in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. - Image via

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