East Africa, Part 11: Serengeti / Olduvai Gorge.

Starting our day we checked out of the fancy-schmancy place and some Maasai tribesmen took our luggage to our vehicles. Many of them wear shoes made from bicycle tires.

As we left the Serengeti I got to see my beloved marabou storks hangin’ out in trees waiting for something to die.

Look at this kory bustard. A kory bustard is the largest bird in Africa that can fly. They can be 40 pounds. That’s a beefy bird.

Look at him with his neck feathers wafting in the breeze.

This day we went to the Olduvai Gorge. That’s the incorrect name. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

In 1911, the German entomologist Wilhelm Kattwinkel, while searching for butterflies, stumbled into a gorge. He asked the indigenous Maasai people what the gorge was called. They did not understand what he was saying and thought he was referring to the plants of Dracaena hanningtonii, to which they responded oldupaai. Kattwinkel misinterpreted and mispronounced what they were saying by referring to the gorge as “Olduvai Gorge”.

The oldupaai stalks that grow in the area, they look like this:

As soon as we arrived we were greeted by both male and female agamas. Always nice to see them.

This is unrelated to anything else but I liked these milkweed vines. The leaves are pretty and the pods look like hearts. Or sexy lady legs. Both are valid.

The reason one visits the Olduvai Gorge is because proto-human remains were, and still are, being found there. This map of the continent shows where remains have been found. Apparently it’s because a volcano erupted and volcanic soil preserves bones very well so that path is where the volcanic soil settled after the eruption.

Here’s the history of the place if you want to read it. In order to prevent the images advancing automatically, there’s a play / pause button at the top right. Hit that and you can read at your own pace.

They didn’t have the original bones of Lucy, the famous “missing link” between apes and humans. She was found in Ethiopia and is still there in the Paleoanthropology Laboratories of the National Museum of Ethiopia. This was a cast of the bones. Here’s why she is of such importance from this webpage:

The pelvis exhibits a number of adaptations to bipedality. The entire structure has been remodeled to accommodate an upright stance and the need to balance the trunk on only one limb with each stride. The talus, in her ankle, shows evidence for a convergent big toe, sacrificing manipulative abilities for efficiency in bipedal locomotion. The vertebrae show evidence of the spinal curvatures necessitated by a permanent upright stance.

It was still really cool to stand next to the casts of her bones. The Moomins (5′ 3″) is standing next to her to give you a sense of scale.

As we walked from exhibition to exhibition you went outside to get from room to room. That’s when I saw this male agama. Look at his turquoise leggies! So handsome!

They had fossils of animals that roamed the area. A brief summary was “You know the warthog / antelope / buffalo? They were very much bigger in the past. Hella-big.” Here was the vintage warthog. I loved the ink illustrations.

Here’s its tooth. I found the swirly pattern super-cool. It was bigger than my foot.

This skull is described as the most famous find in the Olduvai Gorge. It’s known as “Nutcracker Man.” It’s substantially larger than our skull. I can’t imagine how big the body was.

I loved this description of this pelvis chunk. I will name my band “Pelvis I of the Pit of Bones” and our album will be called “Sierra de Atapuerca.”

The thing I was most excited to see was remains of Turkana Boy. It’s not the most famous find in the Olduvai Gorge because it was found in Lake Turkana in Kenya. It’s quite complete. I loved the metal armature the museum used to display the skeleton.

These horns. I cannot convey how big they are. They just dominated the whole room. And the skull was elongated. It must have sucked for the proto-buffalo to lug around all day. Perhaps that is why the African buffalo is so ornery, the million year old memories of this neck-breaking bone assemblage haunts them.

Here’s another example of the megafauna that roamed the area. See this giraffe in the process of becoming the giraffe we know and love? You think you know how big that horn is.

Nope. Bigger that that. Massive.

They also had an exhibit on the Hazda, the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribe. They’ll probably cease to be in a few years, turning to agriculture. It’s too tempting.

They had one exhibit left over when the museum was small and crappy, before they redid it in the cool style they have now. You can appreciate how crappy it was.

For clarification, it says “Datoga women covering a skin dress with butter mixed with ochre.”

They did have a beaded piece was was really good. It’s so difficult to space the beads out so they don’t buckle and the lines are incredibly straight. I can appreciate how hard this is.

After you’ve gone through the museum you get a view of the gorge itself and it takes your breath away.

They’re still unearthing finds off to the left where the dirt is gray. That’s the volcanic soil that preserved the fossils so well. The layers of dirt are called Beds and you can appreciate some of the layers in that big stone thing called “The Castle.” Basically Beds I and II were clay and silt and have yielded some great discoveries. Bed III is that red iron which doesn’t preserve anything so no finds there. Off to the side is Bed IV, back to clay and they’ve found thousands of tools like anvils and axes.

Once we taken in this view (about twenty minutes of being awestruck), we wandered around the museum grounds. I saw two different types of weaverbird nests in one tree.

This was a memorial for Professor Bernhard Grzimek and his son Michael who devoted their lives to studying the zoology of the area and encouraging conservation of the animals and environment. Sitting on top is a juvenile… bird of prey. I’m going to look it up but no promises on the type of bird.

I’ve decided it’s an Augur Buzzard. If I’m wrong don’t come for me.

Next: The only five-star hotel I thought was worth it and the Ngorongoro Crater.

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