When we first booked our trip, my husband talked with the tour company about adding a little detour to Olduvai Gorge, which wasn't on the itinerary. They said they thought they could work something out, and when the day came, our regular driver took us there on the way home from the Maasai village. It turned out the visitors' center was just a few miles off the main road.
Near the entrance was the best display of weaver bird nests of our entire trip. Their neat, tidy forms seem to destine them to be sold as birdhouses in an Oriental Trading Company catalog or to sit politely on the shelf in a Pier 1 Imports store:
Paleo- what? Isn't that some kind of diet?
Paleoanthropology: the study of the origin and the predecessors of the present human species, using fossils and other remains. Extensive excavation work in the Oldupai Gorge by Louis and Mary Leakey (at least I had heard of them) in the 1950s and 1960s led to many key early man discoveries.
There is a small museum on site that contains some of the discoveries from the digs:
Information next to the display states that this discovery was so important that "it is unlikely that any similar evidence will be found . . . ever again." The prints are "the earliest preserved direct evidence of our ancestors upon the earth's surface, some 3.6 million years ago. There is scarcely anything so evocative as the Laetoli trail, symbolizing humanity's long and wondrous journey. The footprints bear witness to a defining moment in the evolution of humankind and speak to us directly and without ambiguity across thousands of millenia."
Surprisingly eloquent writing for a tiny museum in Tanzania, don't you think?
Other displays offer information about the involvement of local Maasai tribes with the site. Among other things, they are "site guardians":
During the 1959 expedition, while in camp the Leakeys slept in their vehicle with their dogs to keep from being a lion's or leopard's midnight snack:
Really, there is no better place on earth to encounter God's sense of humor than in Africa:
We drove back past the lake we'd seen from the viewpoint in the morning:
|Photo by M. Lewin|