The Start of a Love Affair

October 17, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Let's just say I was in need of a topic.  Eighth grade and I needed a report for history.  I had read an article in National Geographic about a place, very foreign place on a very foreign topic and was fascinated.  Prehistoric man?  A gorge in Africa yielding fossils?  With a little more time in the library and I had a story.  From that modest beginning I was launched into the world of paleontology.  I spent many years reading about prehistoric mankind, saw movies about it, even took a class in anthropology in college that was not required for a degree in Engineering.  "Quest for Fire", a movie about prehistoric man opened in theaters in Denver on a Thursday afternoon.  I called in sick at work to be there for the first showing.   Think I was hooked?  I read everything I could about the topic.  My mom knew how much I loved this as a kid and somehow kept that original National Geographic issue in pristine condition for me, all wrapped in saran wrap when I found it in the old house several years ago.  I always dreamed of visiting Oldupai Gorge.  (Note that the magazines, newspapers etc. refer to it as Olduvai Gorge which is incorrect - more about this later).

National Geographic - October 1961



















Fast forward 40 years.  2001 and I was headed to Africa.  Not just anywhere in Africa, Tanzania.  The itinerary showed 6 days in Serengeti National Park followed by a route back to our arrival city of Arusha.  The route back included a stop at Oldupai Gorge.  On most maps and most articles about the place, it is called Olduvai Gorge.  The gorge is surrounded by oldupai sisal plants but the British misunderstood the pronunciation and it became Olduvai.  Can you imagine my excitement?  Here I was getting ready to step back in time and visit what to me was the cradle of civilization, where some of the earliest versions of humans had lived, worked and somehow survived.  Without a doubt this was more than a side trip, it was like homecoming for me!

There is a very weather worn sign pointing the way to the gorge from the main road to Serengeti National Park.  Down an equally weather worn road about 5km is a visitor center and small museum.  On all trips to the gorge we were able to visit down in the areas where fossils have been found.  For me, a delight.  For others, maybe not so much excitement but it is hard to get that close and not go.  In 2013, based on reports of huge herds in Ndutu, we voted to drive thru but not stop at the gorge,  We arrived on the plains of Ndutu in time to see a cheetah chase and kill; one of the few times I agreed not to visit the gorge visitor center.  It was worth it to me.





2001 and our first visit to the gorge.  We stood at the very spot where Mary Leakey found the skull fragment for Zinjanthropus, held other specimens.  It felt like a very Holy place to me, standing there holding multi-million year old bone fragments. This was my beginning.  I was home, full circle.  The african with us in the photo was then the curator of the museum at the gorge.  


Several months ago I sent in DNA swab samples to National Geographic.  In return for my DNA sample and a few bucks ($125 to be exact) I got a complete trace of my ancestry including a spot on a map which for all intensive purposes shows my paternal origins at Oldupai Gorge or VERY near it.  I knew, I knew, but the science confirmed it.  My earliest ancestor had lived here and used some of the stone tools on display in the museum at Oldupai Gorge (OK, maybe not the exact ones but similar) to break bones, get marrow, skin animals, make new tools.  This was no doubt, HOME!


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