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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Oldoway), a gorge in northern Tanzania, 36 km northeast of Lake Eyasi. The remains of a Paleolithic culture and paleoanthropological materials—some of the oldest in the world —were preserved in a series of lake and subaerial deposits in Olduvai. Excavations were conducted by L. Leakey and M. Leakey from the 1930’s to the 1960’s; the most important discoveries were made between 1959 and 1963.

The lowest bed (more than 2 million years old) yielded the remains of a camp of ancient nomadic hunters and the bones of four apelike men (Homo habilis, pre-Zinjanthropus) who closely resembled the Australopithecus apes but had already crossed the boundary separating man from the animal kingdom. Homo habilis was well developed for walking erect and had attained a cranial capacity of 652 cc; many scholars regard him as Australopithecus and have named him Australopithecus habilis. Also found in the lowest bed were a skull of Australopithecus (Zinjan-thropus), the broken bones of animals killed in hunting (rodents, insectivores, and young ungulates), and very crude stone implements dating back to the oldest epoch of the Paleolithic (pre-Chellean, or pebble, culture; also called Oldowan culture). Stonework, possibly the remains of a dwelling, was also discovered. There were no traces of campfires; fire was evidently not yet known.

The overlying bed (1.4–1 million years old) contained, in addition to stone implements, the bones of men who occupied an intermediate position between Homo habilis and Pithecanthropus. The bones were covered by early Acheulean (Chellean) layers, in one of which were found the bones of Oldowan Pithecanthropus, or Chellean man (490,000 years old). The upper beds in Olduvai date from the Acheulean culture.


Ivanova, I. K. Geologicheskii vozrast iskopaemogo cheloveka. Moscow, 1965.
Leakey, M. D. Olduvai Gorge, vol. 3: Excavations in Beds I and II 1960–1963. Cambridge, 1971.
Clark, J. D. The Prehistory of Africa. London, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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From Louis and Mary Leakey's discoveries in the Olduvai Gorge over some 24 years of exploration and excavation (the culmination of which was the 1.8-million-year-old skull of an anthropoid ancestor of the human race), to their son Richard and his wife Meave's discoveries in the Rift Valley, to their granddaughter's explorations in northern Kenya, the collective contributions of the Leaky family have contributed more than anyone else to our understanding of human evolution.
Northern Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge has provided rich evidence of the area's prehistory, including fossil remains of some of humanity's earliest ancestors.