Olduvai is Gorge-ous!

Abigail Duckor

Our previous posts about Olduvai Gorge introduced the Olduvai Geochronology and Archaeology Project excavations. At this time Anna, Jan and I were just beginning to pack for the trip. It feels crazy to say that now already 2 months have passed since we returned from what was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

As explained before, Olduvai Gorge is a very important site for the discovery of early hominin activity. It was first excavated by Mary and Louis Leakey in 1935 and excavations continue there today. Echos of Mary and Louis Leakey’s presence still remain at the camp where we lived.


The Leakey’s home, now the camp’s dining hall- and coloring area during our mid-day break (Photo Emily)


The Laetoli lab- our conservation lab for the season (Photo A. Duckor)

Every year the day that Mary found the Zinjanthropus boisei skull (also known as Paranthropus boisei) is celebrated. We were lucky enough to be part of the celebrations this year. Throughout the night everyone expressed their thankfulness for the collaboration that has taken place between the local Maasai and the visiting researchers.


Our friend Merve gets lovingly dressed up by the Maasai Women for the Zinj Day celebrations (photo A. Duckor)

The excavations this year have been led by Dr. Ignacio de la Torre (UCL), Dr. Lindsay McHenry (University Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Dr. Michael Pante (Colorado State University). The excavations site locations were based on the meticulous notes of Mary Leakey.

This year, the main sites excavated were incredibly rich archaeologically. Over 5,000 artefacts were excavated this season and over 550 of those passed through the conservation lab.

GTCT (Greatest Tanzanian Conservation Team) treated more objects then ever before. Comprised of myself, Anna, Jan and Eli. We were led by Dr. Renata Peters to have a highly successful season conserving fossilized bones and stone tools.

The fossilized bones  came into the lab requiring joining, consolidation, fills and surface cleaning. The stone tools were often delaminating, in addition to needing joining and surface cleaning.


Anna consults with Renata about a treatment (photo A. Duckor)

We could not have had such a successful season without help from the Tanzanian excavators and field school students who quickly became part of the GTCT.


I help teach one of our students, Nai, about documentation


The ever-growing conservation team!

When reminiscing about our time in Olduvai to others Anna, Jan and I have gotten some interesting reactions. Daily life at the camp would not be considered easy by most. We slept in tents, had no running water (which meant showering from a bag and brushing your teeth by a bush) and only limited generator-powered electricity. We would start work daily at 7:45am and would finish around 6:30pm- when there was no more light to work by. However, we would also watch the sunrise over the gorge every morning, see giraffes running behind the camp in the evening and fall asleep to the sound of hyenas. We were surrounded by loving and caring people with whom we formed friendships that will last a lifetime. Olduvai Gorge is a unique and wondrous place. I think I speak for all three of us when I say we feel very lucky to have been part of this experience.


(Photo A. Duckor)

This trip could not have been possible without help from our friends and family who donated to our crowd fundraising campaign, the Zibby Garnett Travel Fellowship and OGAP. Thank you so much!

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