The Olduvai Gorge Project

The Olduvai Gorge Project - TOPPP, The Olduvai Paleoanthropological and Paleoecological Project

The Olduvai Paleonthropology and Paleoecology Project (TOPPP)

TOPPP’s work at Olduvai Gorge started in 2006. Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo (Complutense University, Madrid, Spain) and Audax Mabulla (University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) started the project with a team formed by several professional researchers from various fields. In 2007, Henry Bunn (University of Wisconsin at Madison, USA) joined them as co-PI. The acronym for the team (TOPPP, The Olduvai Paleoanthropological and Paleoecological Project) was adopted subsequently that year. In 2009, Enrique Baquedano, from the Regional Archaeological Museum of Madrid, also joined as co-PI. In 2010, Charles Musiba, from the Universty of Colorado in Denver, joined the research team and his research project at Laetoli and TOPPP fused in academic partnership.

The reason for starting field research at Olduvai was the result of the thorough taphonomic study that TOPPP members carried out on the collections of the classical Olduvai sites excavated by M. Leakey. As a result a book was published: Deconstructing Olduvai. New questions emerged after the study of these collections and to answer them it became necessary approach some of the main Olduvai sites with renewed excavations by applying new techniques that were not available almost 50 years ago when M. Leakey excavated them. The initial interest of TOPPP rested on the re-excavation of the Olduvai Bed I sites, which had remained unattended for almost half a century after their excavation by M. Leakey, and these goals expanded to include some upper Bed II sites which are crucial to understand hominin behavior in the transition from Oldowan to Acheulian.

Current research involves state-of-the-art techniques at some of the most relevant Olduvai sites (“FLK Zinj”, “PTK”, “FLK North”, “SHK”, “TK”, “BK”, “FLK West”), combining open-air excavation and landscape archaeology to understand early human behavior. A first stage of TOPPP´s research at Olduvai was published in a special issue of Quaternary Research in 2010.