Isimila Historical Site at Iringa, likely home of Early Man

Friday January 14 2022
Natural Pillars, Isimila Historical Site Museum

Natural Pillars, Isimila Historical Site Museum. PHOTO | COURTESY


Isimila Historical Site in southern Tanzania, 21km from Iringa town, off the Tanzania-Zambia highway, is ideal for families and groups to visit.

One can reach this historical and geographical site that comprise an archaeological trove and natural pillars by mini-bus, taxi or motorcycle.

It took us eight hours by bus from Dar es Salaam to Iringa. A road trip to Iringa is about five to six hours only, but frequent police controls guarding against speeding vehicles and several road checkpoints increase the travel time.

From Iringa, we hired a taxi to Isimila for a one-day tour of the Natural Pillars. We paid Tsh25,000 ($11) to Isimila Historical Site after a 15-minute drive.

There is a little museum where the trip begins with a guide giving a brief introduction to the formation of the site and more about fossils, tool artefacts and the natural pillars.



We continue into the canyon down a steep footpath. The guide maintained a running commentary as we admired the pillars, and the intricacies behind their formation.

The walk is scenic as one passes through the earth pillars with reddish colours, as birds chirp fly overhead.

The site is under the management of the Tanzania National Parks. Site conservator Nathalia Mamsery said the natural pillars are located at a dried lake basin, but inside the pillars, caves can be found.

Islamia Natural Pillars

Islamia Natural Pillars sign. PHOTO | COURTESY

Nearby, is the Isimila Stone Age Site where stone tools from Early Man were discovered in the early 1950s. There is an abundance of stone tools shaped for every activity known in the course of human evolution.

There are hammer stones, axe heads, flints and scrapers estimated to have been crafted between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago. A museum with small, well-captioned displays highlights many of the discoveries.

In the 1950s, archaeologists unearthed some of the most significant Stone Age tools.

They also found fossilised bones of mammals; an extinct hippopotamus and something similar to the modern day giraffe but with a shorter neck, our guide told us.

He added that the first excavation work was carried between July and November 1957, followed by another from July to August 1958 after a researcher from South Africa, D.A McCleman, discovered the site in 1951 while travelling by road from Nairobi to Johannesburg.

McCleman collected some stone tools and deposited them with the Archaeological Survey Union of South Africa.

First researcher

During these two excavations, a detailed geological survey of Isimila was carried out and Dr Louis Leakey became the first researcher to examine the fauna remains recovered from the two exercises.

The tools are from a variety of rocks such as granite and quartzite. Fossils in the area suggest the existence of elephants, a variety of extinct pigs, giraffe and hippo.

Entry fees to the Isimila Site is Tsh2,000 ($0.90) for Tanzanians and the East African Community (EAC) citizens. Non-EAC citizens pay $10 to access the site.

Accommodation is available in Iringa town where guesthouses and lodges are found with reasonable rates per night.

Tourists to the Southern Circuit that is made up of several national parks of Katavi, Kitulo, Mahale, Udzungwa Mountains, Mikumi and Ruaha can take a leap to Isimila Site for a historical and geographical tour.