Travel story: Discovering the “Cradle of Mankind” in Tanzania

Olduvai Gorge © Roman Boed

Recently, as part of her temporary assignment at UNESCO, Hannah M. Hamilton, Ph.D, from the U.S. Geological Survey had the opportunity to visit Tanzania and tour Ngorongoro-Lengai, an aspiring UNESCO Global Geopark.

UNESCO Global Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development to empower local communities and give them the opportunity to develop cohesive partnerships with the common goal of promoting the area’s significance.

Located in northern Tanzania lying just south of Lake Natron in the Rift Valley, in the heart of Maasai country, Ngorongoro–Lengai takes its name from two features, the Ngorongoro Crater which means “Gift of Life,” and Oldoinyo Lengai, which translates to “Mountain of God.”

Ngorongoro is one of the most fertile grazing areas in all of Africa; where visitors are likely to see lions, zebras, wildebeest, elephants, grey crowned cranes, hippopotamuses, gazelles and other wildlife pass through its verdant grasslands. This area hosts the Olduvai Gorge where evidence of mankind’s evolution has been found. To the northern and eastern side, you can take in striking views of the Oldoinyo Lengai, which is the only active volcano in the region.

While riding through the area outside of the crater, you can see Maasai herding cattle or goats and just beyond them down the road would be a herd of zebras or wildebeest. Again and again this happened.

Olduvai Gorge © Roman Boed

The area includes a range of other geological features such as the Ngorongoro Crater. Three tribes the Maasi, Datoga and Hadza call the aspiring Geopark home.

Hannah had the opportunity to witness firsthand how local communities are engaged by sharing their cultures with visitors, seeing that the roles of women are being emphasized, as guides, craftswomen and vendors. She left with a sense of awe, having experienced the beauty and diversity that can be found in what is considered by many to be the cradle of mankind.

The next steps for this aspiring UNESCO Global Geopark is a field evaluation in the coming months, and a recommendation based on the evaluation to the UNESCO Global Geoparks Council.

For more on the Ngorongoro-Lengai application to be designated as a UNESCO Geopark, click here.