World Heritage: First Steps


Our heritage begins approximately 2 million years ago. An early hominid Homo habilis “handy man” began making simple pebble tools. This is our first evidence of our ancestors making and using tools.

Stone tools are not easy to make. Knowledge of rock properties and how to manipulate the properties of the rock to control how the rock fractures is required to make a stone tool.

The significance of this moment in time is the knowledge exhibited in making stone tools. This knowledge illustrates a culture had developed. It is not enough for one person to figure out how to make a stone tool by chance. After learning of the advantages of chipping stone for tools, these early people transmitted this knowledge to others in the group and to future generations. This is culture, this is heritage.

Discoveries of Homo habilis crania remains indicate this group had a larger brain size than previous generations. The larger brain size likely allowed for the development of higher order cognitive reasoning and the development of a culture.

Louis Leakey discovered, in the 1930s, these simple pebble stone tools in a sediment layer sandwiched between volcanic ash layers in Olduvai Gorge. Olduvai Gorge is located in the East African Rift Valley. The rift valley formed from the continental plate pulling apart and exposing ancient sedimentary layers dating to the development of our early ancestors. Potassium-Argon (K-Ar) dating of the ash layers provided an estimate of when these tools were made.

Louis Leakey defined the process of making these pebble tools and called it Oldowan technology after Olduvai Gorge. Oldowan technology is the oldest known cultural tradition preserved in earth’s heritage record.

First Steps: World Heritage Sites

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, located in the United Republic of Tanzania, was inscribed onto the world heritage list in 1979. This 809,440 ha site encompasses Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera, and Olduvai Gorge. The famous Lake Laetoli footprints, discovered by Mary Leakey, is also located in the park. The Lake Laetoli footprints provide evidence of early bipedalism approximately 3.6 million years ago.

Ngorongoro is also home to a diverse population of ungulates and the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa such as the lion. The Maasai, a pastoralist people, also inhabit a portion of the park for the grassland.


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