Olduvai Gorge

Olduvai Gorge International Field School


Collaborating Institutions

Program Location

Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Laetoli and Olduvai Gorge) in Arusha Region in northern Tanzania (Figure 1). Geographically, Tanzania exhibits some of the most diverse, awesome, and breathtaking topography known to humankind. Although Tanzania is still very much a developing country, it offers a unique and exhilarating backdrop for intense and academically and culturally rewarding study. Tanzania’s diverse and ever-changing landscape – the awe-inspiring Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti Plains, the Ngorongoro Crater, the plateaus, the highlands and the coastal plain along the shores of the Indian Ocean – houses some of the richest fauna, flora, cultural heritage assets and indigenous cultural groups with which to interact. Such a remarkable array of cultural and natural elements helps to ensure an educational experience that proves second to none.

Endowed with some of the most spectacular and world famous archaeological and paleoanthropological sites, Tanzania presents focused, self-driven students with an opportunity to become deeply immersed and engaged in the beauty and splendor of a unique cultural and prehistoric tour de force.

The proposed field school, which is a collaboration of four academic institutions in the US, Spain, and Tanzania; will offer students a memorable, yet academically challenging chance and an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, a journey which began a mere 3.6 million years ago; explore the beauty and wonders that one of Africa’s most peaceful countries, Tanzania has to offer; and make lifelong, meaningful connections with cultures rich in diversity.

Field School Content

The Olduvai Gorge International Field School (OGIFS) is an intensive and practical field school involving all the disciplines that comprise the study of human evolution. Its goal is to provide comprehensive training in the following fields: archaeology (survey, excavation, restoration and study of materials), paleontology (with special emphasis in macro mammal paleontology and paleobotany), taphonomy, geology, paleoecology (with intensive training in modern savanna ecology), curation and heritage management.

The philosophy of the school is a combination of field training and practical (materials)-theoretical training on a daily basis, dividing the day in two parts, one for field work and the other one for theoretical training with hands-on materials. Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world covering more than 4 million years of human evolution.

At Olduvai Gorge, the field school will be based at the Aguirre-Mturi Field Research Station, which is the home base of the current The Olduvai Palaeoanthropology and Palaeoecology Project (TOPPP) (see a publication of the project research here). The field school is institutionally supported by The University of North CArolina at Greensboro, The Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA), the University of Dar es Salaam and the National Museum of Tanzania,and  the Alcalá de Henares University in Madrid.  The instructors of the field school are reputed scholars in their field with international recognition. The bulk of the funds provided by the field school are used for research at both sites and for sponsoring Tanzanian students both at the field school and for a doctoral career in paleoanthropology.

The Field School Structure

The proposed field school is team-taught by various instructors from the collaborating institutions.  This course is designed to be self-sustainable and offered all areas of inquiries in paleoanthropology with a geology and paleobotany components depending on:

  • The number of enrolled students
  • Instructors training and research focus during that particular session

Each summer session, the field school will alternate between field sites and research areas offered by the instructors. At least two areas of inquiries will be offered at the field school each year.

Administrative experiences

The lead field school co-directors and instructors of this program have an extensive research and administrative experiences related to international paleoanthropological research and field school assignments and operations. For example,  Dr. Audax Mabulla (UDSM) has for 12 years directed the field school of the University of Dar es Salaam-Associated Colleges of Midwest (USA) program.  He with Dr Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo (IDEA) and Dr. Charles Egeland are currently co-directing the TOPPP program which has developed and built the Aguirre-Mturi field research station at Olduvai Gorge. Since 2006, both have run a field school of students from the University of Dar es Salaam. Dr. Charles Egeland, the head of the field school, has also extensive experience having directed this school since 2011.

Experiences of the Field School Instructors

This program is unique in that it is run by a group of International paleoanthropologists and archaeologists with expertise ranging from; paleoanthropology, paleoecology, archaeology, geology and sedimentology, paleobotany, conservation and cultural heritage management.

The Olduvai Gorge Project Team

Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo

Prof. Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo is a professor of anthropology and a co-founder of TOPPP and the Institute of Human Evolutionary Studies in East Africa (IDEA) at the Complutense University in Madrid, Spain. Prof. Dominguez-Rodrigo research interest is in taphonomy and human evolution, particularly in the stratigraphic units of Bed I and II at Olduvai Gorge. He will be responsible for teaching students’ taphonomy and ecology of hominins (hunting and predation processes and fossil assemblage formation within Beds I and II at Olduvai Gorge).

Audax Mabulla

Prof. Audax Mabulla is an associate professor of archaeology at the University of Dar es Salaam, Department of History and Archaeology. Prof. Mabulla is a co-founder of The Olduvai Paleoanthropological and Paleoecological Project (TOPPP). His research interest focuses on the Oldowan, Acheulian, Middle and Later Stone Tools Industry and rock art in East Africa.  Also he is an expert in hunter-forager ecology and mobility and cultural heritage management in Africa. Prof. Mabulla will cover surveys archaeological excavations and stone tool analysis at Olduvai Gorge.

Charles Egeland

Prof. Charles Egeland is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and co-director of the field school. Professor Egeland's research interests revolve around taphonomy and human evolution.

Fernando Diez-Martín

Prof. Fernando Diez-Martín is a professor at the Valladolid University. He is an expert in the study of stone tools. He is an accomploished researcher in lithic technology, specialized in Oldowan and Acheulian. He is also the director of the Peninj Project in Lake Natron (Tanzania).

David Uribelarrea

Prof. David Uribelarrea is an associate professor at Complutense University in Madrid. He is an expert in Quaternary geology and more specifically fluvial geology.

Cynthia Fadem

Prof. Cynthia Fadem is an Associate Professor of Geology at Earlham College. Her research interests revolve around geoarchaeology.

Program description

The field school in anthropology is team-taught by instructors from the participating institutions. This program is unique in that it provides research and training opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students interested in the scientific enquiries concerned with human origins in East Africa with a special emphasis on Tanzania.  The program focuses mainly in the following interdisciplinary research and training areas.


These are the contents of the archaeological training: Field Archaeology (micro- and meso-scale)

Micro-scale (site excavation) Excavation of selected sites: current work is focused on FLK North, FLK Zinj, PTK, BK, SHK, TK at Olduvai Gorge while at Laetoli the work will focus at Site G, Localities 1, 8, 7, 7SW, 10, and 11.

    • Techniques of excavation and information recovery
    • Field restoration techniques
    • Use of laser total stations
    • Spatial documentation carried out via photogrammetric reconstruction in each archaeological level.

Meso-scale (landscape survey and excavation)

    • GIS lab techniques and their application in the field
    • Paleolandscape archaeological sampling
    • Spatial information of the landscape retrieved using laser total stations
    • Paleolandscape sampling for geochemical and paleobotanical indicators.
    • Use of satellite and aerial photographic digitized images
  • Insertion of spatial information for each archaeological trench into a 3D database created with stereoscopic satellite images of the complete gorge
  • Use of GPS devices
  • Photogrammetry and ichnofossil field recording and tracing techniques
  • Taphonomic study of each excavated site and across the landscapes. Criteria:
    • Study of orientation patterns and software used for circular data.
    • Taxonomic identification following paleontological criteria
    • Zooarchaeology: identification of faunal remains to skeletal part
    • Use of skeletal part profiles: hierarchical use of NISP, MNE, MAU and MNI.
    • Bone breakage:
      • Identification of dynamic and static loading processes in bone breakage
      • Identification of breaking patterns and agents
      • Notch type identification
      • Notch morphometrics
      • Identification of breakage plane types
    • Bone surface modifications:
      • Sub-aerial and chemical weathering stages
      • Identification of tooth marks and their types
      • Study of long bone end furrowing patterns to differentiate carnivore types.
      • Identification of percussion mark types
      • Cut mark and trampling mark identification
      • Bioerosion
      • Identification of macroscopic biochemical marks
    • Study of mortality profiles and software used for this purpose.
    • Creation of data bases.
    • Statistical training for data management
    • Students will perform experiments for most of the bone analysis studies.
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Lithic technology

Laboratory training in lithic technology will involve the combination of field and lab techniques:

1. Dynamic analysis of the production sequences (chaînes opératoires) retrieved in each lithic assemblage:

  • Techniques to identify raw material outcrops, raw material selection and transport across the landscape by hominins
  • Reconstruction of reduction systems (core exploitation) through diacritical studies of cores and flakes.
  • Identification of technological traits in lithic implements with the aid of a high resolution 3D scan
  • Analysis of lithic categories and interpretation of technological traits
  • Analysis of the spatial component of technological behavior with the aid of a GIS dataset: lithic discard, transport and distribution across the landscape.
  • Experimental analyses:
    • Raw material response to knapping methods (bipolar, freehand), reproduction of knapping sequences observed in the different sites, functional testing.

Paleobotany and Paleoecology

Field work will involve:
Sampling sediments for phytoliths and pollen
Sampling sediments for geochemical indicators of vegetation
Modern collection of plants and identification
Collection of modern ungulate limb elements
Sampling fossil ungulates limb elements for biomechanics and ecofunk study using 3D morphometrics
Theoretical training will involve identification procedures and applications for reconstruction of paleovegetation and locomotor repertoires of extant and extinct ungulates.
  • Modern analogue study of the Serengeti-Crater Highlands-Manyara-Tarangire regions of Northern Tanzania
      • Geological and geomorphological settings associated with modern fresh-water springs
      • Geomorphology of low energy rivers and flood plains associated with the saline and/or alkaline lakes Eyasi, Manyara, and Burungi
      • Clay mineralogy of lacustrine, riparian, and of groundwater discharge areas
      • Vegetation proxies for riparian and spring-associated vegetation and non-edaphic woodlands and savannas
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Modern savanna ecology


Field Geology and Geoarchaeology

Micro-scale (site excavation)

  • Analysis of stratigraphy and sedimentology
  • Geo-archaeological definition of palaeosurfaces and archaeological levels.
  • Geological and archaeological levels documented by using laser total stations
  • Spatial documentation carried out via photogrammetric reconstruction per geological sections.
  • Collection of samples (sediment and rock)

Meso-scale (landscape excavation)

  • Stratigraphical correlation
  • Spatial information retrieved using laser total stations
  • Collection of samples (sediment and rock)

Macro-scale (geomophology and processes reconstruction)

  • Detailed mapping of Beds I and II around Olduvai palaeolake, between the Fifth and Third faults. New maps will be based on derived DTM (~1m) steroscopic satellite images of the complete gorge
  • Geological correlation of paleo-environments
    • Fluvial systems (BK, SHK and RHC)
    • Alluvial plains (TK)
    • Lake margin (FLKN-FLKNN, Zinj-PTK)
    • Collection of raw material for lithic tools
    • Geo-archaeological survey
    • Boundaries of Oldowan and Acheulean
    • Boundaries associated with Australopithecus afarensis and Australopithecus aethiopicus at Laetoli
  • Theoretical training on analysis of geological samples
    • Sedimentology (texture analysis, 63-125-250-500-1000-1400-2000 μ)
    • Mineralogy (X-ray fluorescence)
    • Petrographic analysis (optical and scanning electron microscopes)
    • Geochimistry characterization of tuffs (“fingerprint”)
    • Carbonate content (Petron´s Calcimeter and X-ray fluorescence)
    • Absolute dating of volcanic rocks (K/Ar, Ar/Ar)
    • Isotopes analysis
    • Palaeomagnetism (magnetic polarity)
  • Geo-archaeological interpretation of sites
    • Geological frame and natural resources for hominids (raw material and water)
    • Geodynamics: geomorphology and processes
      • Reconstruction of palaeosurfaces
      • External processes, their frequency and intensity  (aeolian-volcanic, fluvial, alluvial)

The program will also offer field trips to some important paleoanthropological sites including Engaresero, Nasera Rock shelter, and Lake Ndutu, where footprints remains of early modern humans, stone-bowl cultural remains, and archaic Homo sapiens skulls have respectively been discovered.

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Program Costs

Program costs will depend on the number of students enrolled in the field school program. Students’ costs is estimated to be ~$4,700 for the 6 credit hours (This will include registration and all expenses related to the actual course, excluding airfare to and from the field site). Credits are granted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Note: The Tanzanian currency (T Shillings) is dependent of the US dollar fluctuation; field school expenses and projected budget has taken that in account. However, gasoline prices, which fluctuate independently from major currencies, cannot accurately be projected within the budget.


Students, instructors and field school support personnel will live in tents at the Aguirre-Mturi Field Research Station (near Dr. Mary Leakey’s field camp).  For most of the course duration students will live in tents in a middle of the Serengeti Plains (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Western Zone, Olduvai Gorge), and food will be cooked on an open air fire. The field school has solar lights and chargers/generators to power computers, charge cameras and cell-phones and other field-related equipments. Our camp support team has worked at Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli in the past fifteen years and it is very knowledgeable about camping conditions.

As part of their accommodation arrangements in the field, students will be required to bring: (a) their own tents  (a tent that is large enough to accommodate a student and his/her belongings), we recommend a 3 people dome tent; (b) shower (we recommend solar showers with temperature indicators; (c) sleeping bag; (d) inflatable or thin foam camping mattress and fleece covers; (e) brim hat and sunglasses; (f) sun block lotion (try to get the best that will protect you from the tropical sunlight); (g) mosquito net and insect repellant (we recommend DEET); (h) some books to read or music to listen to during free time; (j) flashlight (h) any allergy medication and anti-malaria prescription.

We will be in an area occupied by several different ethnic groups, but the largest is the Maasai. The Maasai herd goats and cattle and live in semi-permanent structures made from wood, mud, and animal dung and plant fibers. They wear traditional dress and are a proud, friendly and dignified people. Students will be reminded to keep in mind that we will be guests in their land. Unless permission granted, students will not photograph people. Students are expected to be flexible, culturally sensitive and innovative.  It is important for students to keep a positive attitude at all times.  How students handle themselves in the field will be considered for the final grade. Students will also be provided with some literature and/or lectures about Tanzania and preparation for field work as well as some academic articles that they will have to read. Acting responsibly, paying attention to their health and safety and learning as much as they can, will be the primary goals for this course. One of the goals of the field school is to make this course one of the most interesting and valuable learning experiences to students.

Local culture


Meals at the field site are included in the price program, except for the period that students will spend in transit (traveling to and from the field school location) as well as during excursions. The field school hires two professional cooks who have over 15 years of paleoanthropological field-related cooking experiences.  One of the two Tanzanian cooks worked with the late Dr. M.D. Leakey at Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli in 1976. The other is a retired full-time chef who worked with an international shipping company.  Our field school chefs have culinary expertise ranging from; African and European dishes to Chinese cuisine.

Cooking facilities, quality of food

The field school has its own cooking facility at the Aguirre-Mturi Field Research Station  and a mobile cooking facility at Laetoli that includes an efficient charcoal and gas stoves, all kitchen ware, drinking water filters, dining tables and chairs and a deep-well water hook-up that is usually connected to the Endulen hospital water supply system. The field school has a mobile storage for dried food. Before departing to the field, we stock up on dried food from an ultra-modern supermarket “Shoprite” in Arusha and Karatu town.  The supermarket not only sells local dried food but also American and European imported food such as cereals, canned meat, pasta, and concentrated soft drinks. The food in the field is usually prepared on an open air fire.

As part of the field school preparation, students must visit a travel clinic or their physician and receive the appropriate vaccination and malaria medication several weeks before departure to Tanzania. Students will be reminded to make sure that they follow their physician’s instructions at all times, particularly regarding malaria medication. Students will be advised to keep their vaccination record together with their passport at all times while in Tanzania and leave photo copies of their important documents (including passport) in their suitcases. Any medications that are needed on a regular basis should be purchased before departure to Tanzania.

Through our first five years of field school, we have forged a partnership with Endulen hospital, which is the only hospital in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, serving a population of at least 51, 000 scattered in an area of some 8300 sq. Km.  The hospital is 34 Km Southwest of the NCAA authority Headquarters and it has a permanent health personnel of about 50 – 60 persons including a medical officer and two clinical officers as well as nurses, lab specialists and other hospital supporting personnel. This hospital serves as our field school health hub and provides us with running water on a co-sharing cost agreement.

However, major medical needs may require evacuation to referral hospitals in Arusha, Mwanza or Nairobi. Therefore, students should make sure that their health insurance will cover medical evacuation (if needed). While the professors and staff will do their best to keep students healthy and safe, it is a student’s responsibility to follow the instructions of his/her physician, the professors and staff; and not engage in any risky activities or an activity that may be considered beyond their physical endurance.

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Health and Safety/Disciplines

Transportation and Travel

Although students are responsible for their airfares and travel arrangements to and from Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, based on our past experiences, we strongly recommend that students coordinate with the program co-directors when making travel arrangements. The field school co-directors will provide the students with information on the International airport in-country and the final destination for the travel.  The co-directors of the field school will coordinate with all students’ travel plans, especially departure/arrival dates to and from Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania. At Kilimanjaro airport, students and instructors are met by the co-directors.  Depending on the number of students participating each year, TOPPP will hire four-wheel drive vehicles (five to six Toyota Land cruiser or Land rovers) that will transport students to the field. Arrival time at Kilimanjaro is usually late in the evening, students and instructors normally will spend one night at Safariland and Cottages in Arusha in the outskirt of the city. We will use this place because it is safe, secure, and secluded from the bustling city activities, yet still within the city limits and close to important services such as banking, health, shopping, and communication.

As part of the requirement for all students to participate in any academic activities in Tanzania, residence permits and entry visas are required. The co-directors of the field school  will provide students with supporting documents that will allow them to secure entry visas and residence permits from the Tanzania Embassies in their respective countries/ Immigration Office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  Entry visas are obtained through the Tanzanian Embassy in Washington DC for American Students and other European students (please do check with the Tanzanian Embassy in your country). In case there is no Tanzanian Embassy in the country where a student is applying for the field school, then that particular student will need to coordinate with the co-directors so that additional information that may be required in order for that student to obtain a passport at the point of entry in Tanzania is provided. Students MUST also apply for the Tanzanian residence permits, which are issued by the Immigration office in Dar es Salaam. Application forms will be provided to students once they have been accepted to the program. Students must return the forms to the co-directors with the following copies:

  • valid passport (pages showing where the passport was issued/expiry date and signature of the bearer)
  • birth certificate
  • high school and/or college diplomas
  • resume/vitae
  • valid student ID
  • four passport-size photos


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