Olduvai Gorge

The Olduvai Paleoanthropology and Paleoecology Project (TOPPP)

The Olduvai Paleonthropology and Paleoecology Project (TOPPP)

The Olduvai Paleoanthropology and Paleoecology Project started in 2006 and its goal is to study the origins of human behavior. It focuses on the study of the earliest stone tools, trying to undertand what was the function of the early archaeological sites. We are currently engaged in comparing Oldowan and Acheulian sites in terms of site formation, size and functionality, according to their respective environments. The changing ecology of the Olduvai lake basin had a profound impact on the adaptation and behavior of our ancestors. Understanding this process is crucial to unravel how we became humans.

Deconstructing Olduvai

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.

How did we become humans?

Two exceptionally-preserved paleolandscapes from Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania), spanning the oldest Oldowan (1.85 Ma) and the emergence of the Acheulian (1.7 Ma), containing fully anthropogenic sites (as opposed to just palimpsests), will be studied through a new high-resolution meso-scale paleoecological reconstruction. A new technique based on artificial intelligence deep learning applied to reconstructed paleolandscapes has enabled the discovery, after more than 50 years, of new sites at Olduvai Beds I and II.

Recent research

Zinjanthropus boisei (Zinj)

Mary and Louis Leakey discovered Zinjanthropus boisei (Zinj) at the site known as FLK in 1959, then the oldest significantly intact hominid fossil from Olduvai Gorge.  From the 1960-61 excavation of  the Level 22, i.e. the FLK-Zinj layer, Leakey reported approximately 2500 Oldowan stone artifacts and 3500 fossil bone specimens, including remains of Homo habilis and  Zinjanthropus (later renamed Paranthropus boisei). 

Our Team

Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo

TOPPP co-PI, co-director of IDEA, professor of Prehistory, Alcalá University (Spain), and Department of Anthropology (Rice University, Houston, U.S.A.)


TOPPP co-PI, co-director of IDEA, Director of the Regional Paleontological and Archaeological Museum of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares, Spain.


TOPPP co-PI, Department of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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