Travel one million years back in time at Olorgesailie

Saturday September 8 2018

Humerus bone of pre-historic elephant and modern elephant, Olorgesaili

Humerus bone of a pre-historic elephant and one belonging to its modern counterpart. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NATION 

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The Olorgesailie prehistoric site and museum in the Great Rift Valley is one of the best places in the world to view early human technology.

Hundreds of artefacts dating back millions of years have been unearthed in this semi-arid basin.

It is a two-hour drive from Nairobi. The region has been subject to volcanic upheavals.

Over the centuries, sediment deposits and falling ash from volcanic eruptions helped to protect the ancient tools and bones from the elements.

From the main building, we walked about half a kilometre to Olorgesailie’s mammal fossils.

The surrounding landscape is dotted with small conical hills with clearly visible layers of sediment. The air rang with bird calls.

Fortunately, we had a bird expert in our group who helped us identify Namaqua doves, emerald spotted wood doves, hornbills, brilliant red-and-yellow barbets and social weavers, which create impressive nests.

Coming to the big mammal sites, we found a humerus bone from the excavated skeleton of a 992,000-year-old elephant called Elephas recki.

It is extinct in Africa and is related to the present day Asian elephant. At another enclosure we saw bones from ancient hippos, testament to long vanished wetlands.

In the distance is Mt Olorgesailie, named after a Maasai elder. Scientists have dug for fossils here since 1919.

But it was palaeontologists Louis and Mary Leakey who brought recognition to Olorgesailie. From 1942, they found evidence of prehistoric humans living in the Acheulean period or the hand axe era, between 1.5 million and 200,000 years ago.

Researchers have recreated a historical calendar of Olorgesailie going back almost one million years ago.

Mt Olorgesailie is an ideal place for a day hike, but start very early in the morning as it gets incredibly hot.

By midday we were glad to seek shelter in a thatch boma, open on all sides. There was more bird-watching as we ate our packed lunch.

Olorgesailie is open daily from 8am– 6pm and makes for an easy day outing from Nairobi.

But for longer visits there is a camping ground or book one of the self-catering banda for less than Ksh2,000 a day.