Olduvai Gorge helps define the western edge of the Horn of Africa
Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania is one of the most famous fossil sites in the world providing many of the earliest hominid fossils currently located. It is part of the Great Rift Valley of East Africa and borders on the Serengeti nature reserve. The NASA-enhanced satellite image clearly shows the surrounding area including the major volcano region to the east of the gorge and the continuation of the Great Rift Valley.
Location and Coordinates
The Great Rift Valley in Africa defines the western edge of the Horn of Africa and represents a line of separation running from Syria in the north, through the Jordon valley in Israel and ending across from Mozambique. Olduvai Gorge according to Goggle Earth is located at Latitude: 2 degrees 58 minutes south and Longitude: 35 degrees 22 minutes east. That point represents about the center of the gorge, which runs for about 40 kilometers.
Renaming the Gorge
The gorge is named after the Masai word for a type of wild sisal named “oldupai” and the common form “Olduvai” was a mistranslation and misspelling. Tanzania has officially renamed the area Oldupai Gorge, but it will take some time before it is the common usage.
Importance of Oldupai Gorge
The Leakey family has placed Olduvai Gorge into common understanding. With the discovery in 1959 of what was eventually named Australopethecus boisei, by Mary Leakey, it was clearly shown that early man evolved in Africa and not in Asia as was commonly thought. The Leakeys, including son Richard, continued this exploration of Olduvai Gorge and Eastern Africa up to the present time greatly enlarging the world’s understanding of early hominid history.
Geology of Oldupai Gorge and East Africa
For millions of years sedimentary deposits were made in the area of what is now East Africa, which was often completely covered by seas. The sedimentary deposits kept a record of the animals and plants that grew and evolved during that time. Then during the Miocene period, about 65 million years ago, the area experienced a massive uplift caused by upwelling magma and the overlying sedimentary layers were stretched and the rift itself broke the crust and the Oldupai Gorge split the earth. The upwelling and split then allowed erosion to expose millions of years of the development of life in Africa.