Ngorongoro Conservation Area has palaeontological and archaeological sites over a wide range of dates. The four major sites are Olduvai Gorge, Laetoli site, Lake Ndutu site and the Nasera Rock Shelter. Olduvai gorge is named after 'Oldupaai', the Maasai word for the wild sisal plant, Sansevieria ehrenbergii. Olduvai gorge is widely regarded as the cradle of mankind and it is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world. The variety and richness of the fossil remains, including those of early hominids, has made Ngorongoro one of the major areas in the world for research on the human evolution.
Excavation work there was pioneered by Mary and Louis Leakey in the 1950s and is continued today by researchers from different parts of the World. Olduvai gorge has produced valuable remains of early hominids including Australopithecus and Homo habilis as well as fossil bones of many extinct animals. Nearby, at Laetoli, west of Ngorongoro Crater, hominid footprints are preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 million years old and represent some of the earliest signs of mankind in the world. Three separate tracks of a small-brained upright walking early hominid were found. Based on fossil evidence found at the Olduvai Gorge, it is believed that various hominid species have been occupying the crater continuously for the past three million years of Ngorongoro's existence. Native hunter and gatherers who initially lived in the vicinity were replaced by pastoralists a few thousand years ago. The excavation sites have been preserved for public viewing. One may visit Oldupai at all times of the year. It is necessary to have official guide to visit the excavations. At the top of the Gorge there is small museum, a sheltered area used for lectures and talks, toilets and a cultural boma. The Olduvai Gorge Museum and Visitors Center offer numerous educational exhibits, including fossils and artifacts of our human ancestors and skeletons of many extinct animals who shared their world. There are also informative lectures, special guided archaeological sites tours, local Maasai souvenirs are also available and a well-stocked bookshop. See and touch a huge cast of actual footprints made by our early human ancestors (hominins) known as “Lucy" Australopithecus afarensis. Learn about our collective human origins when we were once all Africans. Thus, Oldupai and Laetoli make the Ngorongoro Conservation Area an important place in the world for the study of human origins and human evolution.
Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek form shallow basins where water accumulates from the nearby areas of slightly higher altitude. The water in both lakes are extremely saline, too saline for human consumption. Lake Ndutu becomes alive with animals during the migration because it is surrounded by the Ndutu woodlands and the Short Grass Plains, which provide ample cover and food.
Located just outside the NCA, to the north-east near Lake Natron, this Volcano, whose Maasai name means ‘Mountain of God’, has had a major influence on the development of the area. It rises 1830m above the Valley floor. Its ash has been blown westwards onto the plains and helped shape the landscape and ecology. It is the only active volcano in the area, having erupted in 2006 and more recently July this year (2007).
This remarkable black dune, composed of volcanic ash from Oldonyo Lengai, is being blown slowly westwards across the plains, at the rate of about 17 meters per year. Some 9 meters high and 100 meters long in its curve, it can be found to the north of Oldupai Gorge.
The Gorge is ecologically important because it is a vital nesting site of the Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture. The best time to visit Olkarien Gorge is from March to April when the vultures are breeding. This coincides with migration when there is plenty of food available