How was Olduvai Gorge
The Leakey expeditions
The exploratory expeditions to Olduvai undertaken by the Leakeys from 1931 to 1947 had the following goals: establishing a sequence of the evolutionary stages of culture across all beds, surveying the gorge to spot as many sites as possible for future selection for excavation, and obtaining a picture of the geological history of the gorge and its relevance to the climatic history of East Africa. What Leakey referred to as the second stage of research at Olduvai, initiated in the early 1950s, was focused on finding and excavating “living floors” to reconstruct “early man’s” behaviour. Extensive open air excavations were subsequently carried out at BK and SHK in Bed II. In the meantime, survey continued in Bed I, and by 1959, hominin fossils had been discovered at MK and, most spectacularly with the skull of Zinjanthropus (Paranthropus boisei), at FLK.
Discovery of Zinj
The discovery of Zinj switched temporarily the Leakey’s attention from the Bed II “living floors” to the Bed I “living floors”, and it yielded significant funding from the Wilkie and Wenner-Gren Foundations and from the National Geographic Society. This marked a crucial moment in East African paleoanthropology. For paleontology, it led to the discovery of some of the most important hominin fossils in decades, among them the first Homo habilis. For archaeology, it enabled the prolonged excavation of several sites during the 1960s and the horizontal exposure of some of the most impressive “living floors”. Still today, some of these sites (e.g., FLK Zinj) remain the most extensive open-air excavations carried out in early Pleistocene archaeology in Africa.
The abundant, well-preserved fossils and artifacts from these Olduvai Bed I sites have constituted the core of debates about early human behavior for the past half century.
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