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Friday, November 5, 2010


I am on my way from Nairobi, Kenya to Doha, Qatar.  An earlier Out of Africa was the movie (won 7 academy awards) featuring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, the story of Karen Blixen.  The background for the book was the same area I toured the past two weeks.

There were two earlier out of Africa migrations which determined the fate of Homo  Initially, early man developed in central east Africa, with the Oldupai Gorge as the epicenter.  The initial out of Africa then occurred perhaps a million years ago.  Then, Planet Earth changed, the population of Man and our relatives was decimated, but this region where life began provided conditions that saved humanity.  Thus, perhaps 50,000 years ago, the real migration began populating the globe. 

One of my stops was to the Oldupai Gorge Museum, this birthplace of humans.  However, as monumental as this exhibit should be, I found it sorely lacking.  Thus, I would like to interest some organization or billionaire to consider providing support.  

I want to start with the Royal Society, which is the oldest learned group, founded in 1660, and is the United Kingdom's Academy of Sciences.  Presidents have been people like Isaac Newton.  

Louis Leakey was born in 1903 of missionary parents in British East Africa.  The story is a lot more colorful than this, but he graduated from Cambridge and returned to Kenya as an archeologist.  To totally simplify the science, he found tools and other artifacts in the Oldupai (the correct Masai spelling) Gorge and other areas, but dated them at 600,000 BC, in odds with the prevailing knowledge and religion of the day that Man "appeared" much later.  

In 1928 (at the age of 25) Leakey had a public shouting match in Kikuyu with Jomo Kenyatta (who went on to become one of the leaders of the Mau Mau Rebellion and the founding father of Kenya--you land at the Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) on the issue dealing with female circumcision (Leakey against, Kenyatta for).  In 1935, a low point in Leakey's checkered career, the Royal Society, overcoming huge scientific sentiment skeptical of Leakey's digs, provided funds to continue the work.

The Leakey family (filled with torturous and tumultuous relationships) essentially initiated the process of discovering Early Man.  Two of Louis' research assistants, Jane Goodall (being tended to by a chimpanzee to the right) and Dian Fossey (gorillas) were romantically linked to him and went on to popular careers.

It was only as recently as 1959, though, that Mary (his second wife) made the first skull find, the 1.75 million old Australopithecus boisei, at Oldupai Gorge.  In 1974, Donald Johanson led an international team to unearth the 3.2 million year old Lucy in Ethiopia.

The whole point to all the above is that Homo sapiens came to be because of unique conditions in this very special place on Planet Earth at the equator.  If you subscribe to evolution, life started most probably with archaea (some say bacteria), the third microorganism branch (with bacteria and eukarya) only discovered in 1977, leading to a chimpanzee of some type--I think, the bonobo--then early man.  As this region in Africa around the equator is where these apes thrived, then we originally began here.  

There was an original migration and human-type life began spreading.  According to various suppositions, something like the Toba Catastrophe Theory occurred around 70,000 years ago, the globe cooled, and this general equatorial band in Africa was the only location where human life survived.  This re-birth of Humanity led to the second out of Africa movement.

Thus, if human life as we know it started not once, but twice, near the Oldupai Gorge, certainly this spot on Earth should be revered.  Unfortunately, I just visited the museum near where the Leakeys made their discoveries, and was at first disappointed, then inspired, for, as primitive as the exhibit might be today, what this could be in the future is tremendously exciting.  The Laetoli Footprints of 3.5 million BC, for example is purposely hidden from view in a secret location.  Some very recent restroom facilities built for a ceremony are blocked off from use because water is too expensive.

Now, some say, leave the museum be, for you don't want to attract hordes of tourists to ruin the area.  I say significantly improve the displays using the latest technologies.  This must be one the three most important discoveries of mankind!

The government of Tanzania cannot afford to prioritize this site, and the Frankfurt Zoological Society seems only to focus on German related interests like the Serengeti National Park.  Germany once prevailed over this territory until the British took over after World War I.

Thus, the challenge to the Royal Society, for they can be given credit for providing just the funding catalyst Louis Leakey needed when he was forced to survive in London doing menial tasks, allowing him to return to Africa.  Perhaps National Geographic might want to partner because they were among the first to provide Leakey with a salary in the '60's.  The curator of the center, Sambeta Ikayo, is a worthy individual who can use all your help.

Hurricane Tomas still at 75 MPH is continuing to rain on Haiti, but is moving into the Atlantic.  In the Bay of Bengal, Tropical Cyclone Jal, also at 75 MPH, will strengthen and make landfall around Chennai (once known as Madras, where your bleeding shirts came from).


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