Visiting Oldupai Gorge, located only a few kilometres south of Serengeti National Park is a worthwhile diversion while on a game viewing safari. It is famously known as the ‘cradle of mankind’ because it is here that the Kenyan Paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey and his wife Mary discovered fossil remains of over 60 hominids, and more than 2,000 stone tools dating back to over 2 million years ago.
Oldupai Gorge is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world that has furthered the understanding of human evolution, leading scientists to conclude that humans evolved in Africa. Although the Kenyan Paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey and his wife Mary are responsible for most of the excavations and discoveries of hominid fossils at Oldupai starting in 1929, German scientists had previously explored the area in 1911. Previously known as Olduvai Gorge, Oldupai Gorge was adopted as the site’s official name in 2005. Oldupai is the Maasai name for the wild sisal plant that is common in the area. In 1979, Oldupai Gorge was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The actual gorge is a 48km long and 90m deep steep-sided ravine that runs through the southern part of the Serengeti plains. On site is a small museum that was founded in the 1970’s by Mary Leakey and renovated in the 1990’s where visitors can see a collection of casts of hominid fossils, their ancient tools, faunal fossils of prehistoric animals that lived between 200,000 and 700,000 years ago, and take in a lecture by a department of Antiquities guide to learn about our prehistoric ancestors.
At the nearby Laetoli site, the famous 27m long trail of hominid footprints that are believed to be 3.6million years old can also be seen. It is possible to hike in the gorge where the Leakey’s excavation sites are still operational with archaeologists from all over the world chipping away.
Visiting Oldupai Gorge can be done in tandem with safaris to the Serengeti to watch the Great Wildebeest Migration, or expeditions to the nearby Ngorongoro crater.
Location – 5kms from the main road to the Serengeti plains, northwest of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area