The Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site is an open-air wonder of archaeology and palaeontology. Here, lying in-situ is one of the world’s richest concentration of hand axes dating back 1.2 million and 400,000 years ago. Situated between two extinct volcanoes on 52 acres of land donated by the Maasai community, it also offers magnificent views of the Great Rift Valley and its surroundings.
John Walker Gregory, a British geologist, in the early 20th century first spoke of the Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site. Gregory had studied the Great Rift Valley system in 1892, 1893 and 1919. Mary Leakey, wife of Louis Leakey, later in 1942, relocated the site to its present location. The excavations that Mary Leakey started at the site in the following year continued into 1947, revealing numerous stone artefacts and fossils of hippo, pig, giraffe, giant baboon and horse. Subsequent investigations by the late Glynn Isaac resulted in uncovering the stone artefacts and fossils exhibited in situ at the site today.
Since then, the National Museum of Kenya, under the leadership of Prof Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution, has researched the site. Their findings indicate that the Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site once lay close to a large shallow lake that attracted wild animals – some of which are now extinct.
Among the activities you can engage in at the prehistoric site, these three should not miss in your bucket list.
1. See the Ngong Hills and the Rift Valley
Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site sits between Mount Olorgesailie and Oldonyo Esakut. From this vantage point, you can get spectacular views of the Ngong Hills and the Rift Valley. Here also, you get tantalising glimpses of agricultural activity and birdlife outside the city as you drive from Nairobi.
2. Catwalk Around In-situ Fossils
View in situ artefacts of the extinct giant elephant and hippo. There is a raised wooden catwalk at the excavation site built for this purpose. For panoramic views of the surrounding hills, savannah plains the Great Rift Valley, a mini watchtower does a splendid job.
3. Appreciate the Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site Journey
Visit a small site museum that houses beautiful exhibits depicting the processes leading to the site’s formation. Take note also of the display on human and cultural evolution in eastern Africa.
The Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site lies some 64 KM south-west of Nairobi. That is slightly over an hour’s drive from the city. If you start your journey early, you can even explore the nearby town of Magadi. The salt lake with its flamingos is a must-see. Alternatively, if you stay till dusk at Olorgesailie, you could catch a congregation of baboons a kilometre away.