Olduvai Gorge Museum – Preserving of Olduvai George and Laetoli Fossil Sites

Olduvai Gorge Museum – Preserving of Olduvai George and Laetoli Fossil Sites

In the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) of Northern Tanzania is the Olduvai Gorge Museum on the fringe of Olduvai Gorge fringe. Mary Leakey founded the museum, but now it’s under the administration of the Cultural Antiquities Department of the Tanzanian government. At the same time, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) handles its management. The museum is dedicated to appreciate and understand Laetoli fossils and Olduvai Gorge sites.

Background

Tourists viewing the Gorge from a nice built hut at the Olduvai Gorge Museum
Tourists viewing the Gorge from a nice built hut at the Olduvai Gorge Museum

Mary Leakey founded the Olduvai Gorge Museum towards the end of the 1970s. She was a paleoanthropologist and an archaeologist who researched the gorge for many years. The Olduvai Gorge Museum was established to accommodate and display paleoanthropological antiquities from around the area.

The Olduvai Gorge Museum was placed under the administration of the Cultural Antiquities Department after Mary’s death. In the middle of the1990s, the department of conservation at J. Paul Getty Museum renovated and improved the Olduvai Gorge Museum. A new wing was part of the improvements having exhibits made by the Getty Museum.

NCAA replaced the initial structure of the museum with a new building having a visitors centre that opened doors by 2018. The new project included expanding and improving the exhibits, adding a traditional boma having spaces for visitors to look into the facets of Maasai culture, improving the educational experience of visitors, a tiny restaurant and an enclosed theatre-like watching platform offering visitors an amazing view of the surrounding.

Eng. Joshua Mwankunda, manager for the Cultural Heritage Department at NCAA, designed the new structure, restaurant, visitor’s centre, and viewing platform. These were built with quartzite stones, and the exhibit halls formed a ring around a middle open space at the middle of the Olduvai Gorge Museum, resembling the design of a Boma to highlight the architectural abilities of the Maasai.

Location of the Olduvai Gorge Museum

Olduvai Gorge Museum is in the NCA in the north of Tanzania, sitting on the gorge’s rim at the intersection of the bigger gorge to the smaller gorge on the side. Olduvai Gorge Museum is about 5 km from the major road running to the crater at Ngorongoro from Serengeti National Park.

Olduvai Gorge Museum Exhibits

Olduvai Gorge Museum’s exhibits focus on paleoanthropological research, including antiquities from the nearby area. A hall exists in dedication to the family of Dr. Leakey family for their research effort at the gorge. The hall includes historical antiquities from the area around the gorge with maps and charts explaining the fossil excavation process.

Most artefacts at the Olduvai Gorge Museum are original, although some are casts mostly of hominid fossils. A nearby hall is dedicated to fossils of Laetoli footprints alone. There’s a cast of a footprint trail made by J. Paul Getty in 1996 on display.

Zinjanthropus (Paranthropus boisei) skull replica displayed inside the Olduvai Gorge Museum - It was discovered by Doctor Mary Leakey in year 1959
Zinjanthropus (Paranthropus boisei) skull replica displayed inside the Olduvai Gorge Museum – It was discovered by Doctor Mary Leakey in year 1959

Adding to these are various photographs and charts illustrating and describing the creation process of Laetoli Footprints. There’s also a huge illustration portraying three Australopithecus afarensis roaming the place 3.6 million years back. Apart from these exhibits inside the Olduvai Gorge Museum, there are two lecture areas outside. These are for museum staff to give orientation presentations.

Olduvai Gorge Museum Employees

The employees at the Olduvai Gorge Museum are about 15 people. Of these two are curators including Godfrey Olle Moita Maasai (resident) and Ramadhani Rashid. Employees of the museum are mainly local Maasai. The newly built structure at Mturi Camp accommodates the museum staff.

Olduvai Gorge Museum Visitors

About 3000 visitors come to the Olduvai Gorge Museum daily in the peak season from across the world. Many of the visitors come by safari. These stop for a museum tour or lunch before proceeding to the Serengeti National Park.

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