News Archives - March 2011

March 2011

Laetoli; the place where first humans walked earth
Religious people are likely to be put off by 'Laetoli,' the windswept location found within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, from where, it is believed the first human beings had walked the earth.

Under religion, or its nativity theory, people are led to believe that a certain guy known as 'God,' created everything; from the earth, the creatures (including humans) who live on the globe and the planets that surround it.

Scientists on the other hand would rather believe in their own 'Big-Bang' theory, claiming that a 'loud explosion' which allegedly occurred billions of years ago resulted into all the things we see now and that humans evolved from apes, moved on four limbs and later learned to walked on just two legs.

Now the issue of Laetoli is said to have started at the time when humans were reportedly beginning to walk upright, or on their two feet, traces of which have been immortalized on ground at this Ngorongoro section, due to some volcanic actions ... or something.

Laetoli is a hominid and faunal fossil track-way site located some 40 kilometers from the leeward parts of Ngorongoro's section of Olduvai Gorge in another area where it is believed the first human being had lived.

The line of hominid fossil footprints was discovered in 1976 by Dr Mary Leakey. The historical footprints
are preserved in powdery volcanic ash from what scientists believe to be an eruption of the 20km
Sadiman Volcano.

The set of track-ways, according to researchers, records unique evidence of bi-pedalism in hominids dating back some 3.6 million years ago. The legendary researcher Dr. Mary Leakey originally excavated the site between 1978 and 1979 after her discovery.

Soft rain cemented the 15 cm thick layer bearing the imprints without destroying the footprints.The hominid sole prints were produced by three individuals, one walking in the footprints of the other, making the original tracks difficult to discover. The Leakey team recorded the footprints using various techniques, and then reburied the track-way using piles of soil, sand, and lava boulders.

About two decades ago, according to Prof Charles Musiba who recently led the Laetoli footsteps' re-excavation mission, Acacia trees started cropping up in the area formerly a semi-desert. The growth of the tree roots into the track-way started causing great damage to the footprints and threatened the preservation of this significant site.

A physical anthropologist at New York University, Professor Terry Harrison, has continued research at the site since the late 1990s to date.

The Getty Conservation Institute, in collaboration with the Tanzanian Department of Antiquities, undertook the conservation of the Laetoli trackway, which included reburial which was executed in 1995 and development of a monitoring and maintenance program for its long-term preservation.

The materials and methods developed for reburial of the track-way are applicable to many archaeological sites that might

All could have remained that way until three years ago when President Jakaya Kikwete whose main interests include wildlife and nature conservation made scene at Laetoli where he went to check on the historical footsteps.

"I was rather taken aback when they told me that the footsteps are buried underground and the rock piles stretching 30 meters long marked the trail where the first humans reportedly walked," said the President during the occasion to re-excavate the 3.6 million old track-ways.

It was the president who ordered the footsteps to be re-exposed for the benefit of both mankind and Tanzania tourism industry which is set to record major boom once the footsteps get opened for public viewing.

As the tracks lead in the same direction, scientists say they might have been produced by a group. German anthropologist Ludwig Kohl-Larsen was the first to go down to Laetoli to look for fossil remains. In 1934, he found the jaw of Australopithecus afarensis believed to be the footprints owner''.

"There is massive global interest from people of all walks of life and nationalities who want to have a look at the real footsteps marks of the first human beings," said Mr Kikwete who has just ordered the construction of the on-site museum around the hominid track-ways at Laetoli.

The Daily News reported about the proposed 'extra ordinary' museum which through advance preservation technology, it will be a large dome complete with its own weather condition and which will simulate the world as it used to be some 4 million years ago.

With that, Tanzania is set to officially claim its position as the place where the first human beings
were conceived.

Ngorongoro which is also part of the Serengeti eco-system, home to millions of wildlife species may continue its role as the place where all animals that rode on Noah's ark had disembarked after the Biblical flood.

With such plans, Laetoli is set to become the one of the greatest places on earth in regard to immortalized parts of human history.

Scientists undertaking the task of re-excavation the buried footsteps of Laetoli

Charles Musiba who headed the re-excavation mission displaying replicas of the hominid trackways

Tourism Minister Ezekiel Maige (Center) and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area's chief conservator,
Bernard Murunya (Left) receiving details of the footsteps from Prof Terry Harrison of US

One of the Acacia trees who roots are said to pose danger to the legendary footsteps

A close-up of the Hominid footsteps at Laetoli

President Kikwete arriving at Laetoli on foot after ditching his convoy about a kilometer away

An impression of the first humans who could have made the foot marks at Laetoli site