Paleoanthropology and Geology in Tanzania
course syllabus

EAS-X377/G549 Field Geology and Paleoanthropology at Olduvai Gorge
May 13-June 19, 2020


Topic Activity Days Location
 Travel to Tanzania  
  • Arrival Kilimanjaro International. Transfers to hotel in Arusha.
  • Travel, safety, health and living in Tanzania sessions.
  • Introduction to course activities, methods of instruction, field sites, student responsibilities.
 1  Impala Hotel, Arusha
 On-site orientation course. Introduction to Swahili. Geographic overview of Tanzania.  
  • Learn basic Swahili
  • History and culture of Tanzania.
  • Visit local village and market.
 1  Impala Hotel, Arusha
 Overview of human evolution in Africa The role of African museums and conservation of cultural resources  
  • Geologic history of continental rifting.
  • Fossil evidence from East African Rift System.
  • History of early human discoveries at Olduvai Gorge.
  • Guided tour to the Human Evolution and Olduvai exhibitions
 1  Impala Hotel, Arusha
 Introduction to geologic setting and evolution of African rift system. The role of African Museums and Cultural Conservation  
  • Geologic setting of Olduvai system.
  • Overview of human origin in Africa.
  • Olduvai the cradle of humankind: history of discoveries.
  • Guided tour to the Human Evolution and Olduvai exhibitions.
 1  Impala Hotel, Arusha
 Development of the East African Rift System Impact of rifting to environments and human evolution. Formation of archaeological sites  
  • Arusha-Olduvai road trip with stops on the way.
  • Field observations of features associated with rifting i.e., volcanism, faults, lake basins, archaeological deposits, and evolution of the wildlife ecosystems and cultural landscapes.
  • Introduce the concept of graben and half-graben in rift formation.
  • How Lake Manyara environments are used as modern analogues for hominid adaptation at prehistoric Olduvai lake basin.
 1  Manyara scarp. Overnight at Mto wa Mbu, Manyara/Karatu
 Geographic overview of Ngorongoro volcanic highlands Evolution of Olduvai paleolandscapes and environments  
  • From Lake Manyara to Ngorongoro volcanic highlands: Brief recap of volcanism, formation of collapse caldera and evolution of Olduvai system.
  • How Ngorongoro Crater environments are used as modern analogue for Olduvai hominid environments.
 2  Ngorongoro Crater
 Stratigraphy of Olduvai: Rock Identification (Igneous/Sedimentary/Metamorphic)  
  • Formations in sedimentary rocks.
  • How sedimentary Beds or rock packages reflect depositional environments.
  • Age of nearby volcanoes and Precambrian rocks.
 4  Olduvai
 Principles of sedimentary facies and facies correlation.  
  • Olduvai depositional environments.
  • Sedimentary facies
 Contemporaneous faulting and sedimentation. Precambrian crystalline geology. Tertiary volcanism.  
  • Rock deformation associated with extensional tectonics.
  • Tanzania craton and unconformity between Pre-cambrian and Quaternary sedimentary rocks.
  • Sand dunes, fluvial deposits, re-worked airfall tuffs.
 4  Olduvai, Serengeti, Serena Lodge
 Sources of raw material for stone tool making.  
  • Difference between volcanic vs. meta-sedimentary outcrops.
 1  Olduvai
 Hominid evolution and emergence of prehistoric people in Africa. Origins and evolution of stone age technology  
  • Human origins: Development, distribution and evidence of Australopithecines, Paranthropus (Zinjanthropus), Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Archaic H. sapiens, prehistoric hunter-gatherers, modern pastoral communities.
 5  Olduvai
 Evolution of vertebrate fauna and early human behavior in geological context.  
  • Biological and cultural evolution from Bed I to Beds II, III and IV times.
  • Faunal turnover during basal Bed II. Environmental contexts of Beds I-IV.
  • Establishment of recent fauna communities.
  • Origin of meat eating behavior by human ancestors and archaeological evidence.
 1  Laetoli
 Fossil and faunal analysis. Taphonomy: Hunting and scavenging behaviors of carnivores and crocodiles  
  • Osteology and fossil identification.
  • Classification of skeletal and animal groups.
  • Bite marks and bone damage by carnivore gnawing.
 2  Lakes Masek and Ndutu, Serengeti, Serena Lodge
 Techniques in lithic analysis. Cultural chronology of Olduvai. Stone knapping experiments. Simulating archaeological sites  
  • Types of stone artifacts.
  • Classification of tool industries.
  • How artifact types tied to sedimentary Beds.
  • Tool making and raw material choice.
  • Butchery experiments using experimentally made tools.
  • Actualistic observation of large carcass consumption by carnivores and crocodiles.
 3  Olduvai
 Paleoenvironmental reconstruction.  
  • Volcanism.
  • Faults.
  • Seismic and earthquake hazards.
  • Geological structures.
  • Fluvial processes.
 3  Ol Doinyo Lengai, Lake Natron
 The role of African museums in science and education.  
  • Exhibition: Human evolution in context.
 1  Olduvai museum
 Human-environment interaction.  
  • The role of Maasai community in conservation of natural and cultural landscapes and resources
 1  Olbalbal Maasai village, Ngorongoro
 Scientific tools and techniques in field geology and paleoanthropology. Methods: Data recovery, documentation and curation of scientific specimens, and publication of scientific reports.  
  • Measuring a detailed section.
  • Geophysical surveys.
  • Archaeological and paleontological field surveys and techniques.
  • Archaeological excavations.
  • Independent work: data collection, analysis of specimens, curatorial management and presentation.
 4  Olduvai
 Revision Sessions  
  • Recap what was learned in the course.
  • Students finish projects and organize field journal.
  • Students - 1 day off (optional visit to Nasera archaeological rock shelter).
 2  Olduvai
 Breaking Camp  
  • Return to Arusha via Ngorongoro
 1  Overnight at Impala Hotel, Arusha

recommended reading

  1. Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life by Martin Meredith.
  2. The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man by Michael Tennesen.
contact information

dr. jackson njau | dr. jim brophy
department of earth and atmospheric sciences
indiana university
1001 e. 10th st. bloomington in 47405

phone: 812-856-3170 | 812-855-6417

email: |