OUT&ABOUT: A postcard-perfect day at Olorgesailie - Daily Nation

OUT&ABOUT: A postcard-perfect day at Olorgesailie

Tuesday July 25 2017

Early man tools and skulls at Olorgesailie

Early man tools and skulls at Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA 

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Magadi Road is a 112km stretch of tar with innumerable turns all the way to Magadi. Further beyond are the quaint hills of Shompole. The vast wilderness is dotted with a patchwork of blue hills made even more picturesque by the pearly clouds slowly gliding over the undulations. Located 70km and one hour’s drive from Nairobi is the world-renowned Olorgesailie prehistoric site. Dubbed the ‘world’s largest stone tool factory’, Olorgesailie lies between two extinct volcanoes - Olodonyo Esakut and Mt Olorgesailie.


The drive through a road winding through swaths of thickets and acacia marked a wild African savannah. The colour of the savannah that day was that of emotions, the sight of solitary misty ranges and haunting sounds emerging from the thickets. Occasionally, I would stop to let herders and their droves of flock lazily cross the thin-tarred road. At 10am, I arrived at Oletepesi, a small sun-battered shopping centre on Magadi Road.

Small groups of Maasai men strapped in crimson shukas could be se seen resting under shades of acacia. Women too, all in bracelets of varied warm colours. Uniformly, they wore garbs of orange, white, crimson, light blue and ultra-marine. Fifteen minutes from Oletepesi, a horizontal board inscribed with “Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site” announces one of the best biological and cultural heritage sites in East Africa. A barren boulevard winds into the museum.

The road to Magadi. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

The road to Magadi. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

Olorgesailie is part of the great East African Rift Valley. Christened a factory of early human tools, it came to the world's attention in 1921, when geologist J.W. Gregory mentioned hand-axes in the valley in his Rift vVlley geology report. In 1919 the geologist had walked from Lake Naivasha to Lake Magadi.


According to the amiable guide at the museum, Mr Gichuru, the humanoids who made the Acheulean hand-axes in Olorgesailie existed in an epoch when flora and fauna that is now extinct thrived near the ancient lake that sprawled in Olorgesailie. The dry basin and well-archived sedimentation points to evidence of an Olorgesailie lake.

The hominids that made the Acheulean tools and diverse species of animals were attracted by the aquatic life, floodplains, wetlands and lakes. Climatic changes posed many hardships to hominids and animals that roamed in the Olorgesailie region. About that time earthquakes ripped through the region .The lakes and streams were drained and for 150,000 years erosion took its tool. Either the populations were doomed to perish or they changed from Acheulean technology or advanced to a new form of technology. The later deposits of the Olorgesailie indicate the middle of Middle Stone Age (African technology), characterised by lighter stone tools, advanced hunting and emergence of Homo sapiens.

Olorgesailie, under the protection and care of the National Museums of Kenya has excellently preserved biological and cultural evidence about the evolution of man. The glass compartments display the Acheulean hand-axes, skeletons of extinct animals, bones and skulls of Homo erectus, including the skull of a Turkana boy .


Olorgesailie has bandas for overnight stays at affordable rates. Isolated from the archaeological site are medieval Maasai nomad huts. The huts are a living testament of a vanishing way of life on the African savannah. They are the mystique of tradition, and last of legends.

Leaving behind soft prints in the dust and collecting a stone that I try to break into Acheluean hand-axe, I hope to leave a trace for the study by future scholars. As I walk down to the bowl I see excavation and surface scatters that contained hundreds upon hundreds of stone hand-axes. The leaves brushing alongside the path are as hard as thorns.

Mt Olorgesailie towers close. As the evening approaches, it conjures an image of a slumbering giant. It rises into a blue-grey gentle face. The guide explains that it takes about four hours to ascend and three hours to descend. It is a bird-watching paradise with a vast number of migratory birds, including white-throated bee-eaters.

Maasai women adorned in multi-coloured beads.

Maasai women adorned in multi-coloured beads. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA


I spot orange rays and feel a warm sensation on the skin. The sun is casting its golden splendour upon the gliding clouds, turning them fiery red. The guide points afar, silhouettes of baboons can be seen. The guide says the quaint deep gorge is usually inhabited by the congress of baboons. It offers an exhilarating adventure in rock climbing, photography, splendour twilights, rare velvet mite mounds and a league of gorgeous flowers. Through whimsical eyes I watch the sun fall behind the horizon, painting the sky pink and red.

Its 1845 hours. The day was postcard-perfect!