Olduvai Gorge (FLK I)

Site type:
Open air
Site function:
Habitation site
-2.98, 35.33
Tanzania, United Republic of
Date range max:
2,588,000 Bp
Date range min:
430,000 Bp
Australopithecus, Homo, Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Paranthropus, Paranthropus boisei
Time periods:
Calabrian, Pleistocene
Plaque marking the discovery of Australopithecus in Tanzania

Plaque marking the discovery of Australopithecus in Tanzania

Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important paleoanthropological localities in the world. It is located in the eastern Serengeti Plain, within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania. The many sites exposed by the gorge have proven invaluable in furthering our understanding of early human evolution [1][2]. One of the most notable sites in Olduvai Gorge is the FLK 1 site, where the OH 5, the holotype of Paranthropus boisei was discovered by Mary Leakey in 1959 [3].  When discovered, the site was considered one of the first sites in which the co-occurrence of lithics and bone remains appeared functionally linked [4]. It was and still is, the largest excavation of an anthropogenic site belonging to the Early Pleistocene [5].


Age MinAge Max
OH 5Cranium17900001850000
OH 6Teeth and Cranial Fragments17900001850000


FLK I (Frida Leakey Korongo) site lies on the bank of the main gorge, just above the confluence of two rivers. It was discovered in 1931 and was the first site at which stone tools were found in situ in Bed 1. On the morning of July 17, 1959, while out on a walk at FLK I, Mary Leakey noticed a portion of a skull poking out of the ground [6]. This discovery is labeled OH 5, which became the holotype for Zinjanthropus (renamed Paranthropus boisei) [3].


FLK 22

The FLK site Level 22 also called FLK Zinj and FLK 22 (1.84 Ma) in Bed I, Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania), has played a pivotal role in the reconstruction of early Pleistocene hominin behavior for the past three decades [7]. OH 5, a cranium and the holotype of Paranthropus boisei, commonly known as Zinjanthropus, a genus name assigned to it earlier by Louis Leakey [3] was recovered from this level. The hominin remains recovered during the excavations also included three more individuals of Homo habilis and Paranthropus boisei (OH6, OH35, OH44) [8][9][10][5]

The OH 5 cranium is from an adolescent, probably male, with an estimated age at death of 15 - 17 years [11][10]. OH 6 comprises a mandibular third premolar, right maxillary first molar, right maxillary second incisor, and six calvaria fragments from a 5-6 year old Homo habilis child [10]. OH 35 is a tibia and fibula of an adult Homo habilis [9][8][12] or possibly Paranthropus boisei [10]. The fourth hominin, OH 44, a surface find made in 1970 and thought to have eroded from FLK Zinj [13][10], is a right maxillary first molar of a Homo habilis child aged 4-5 years [10][14]. The age of the Zinjanthropus level is bracketed by two volcanic tufts, both dated to approximately 1.84 Ma [15][4][16][17]

FLK Zinj contains roughly 60,000 faunal specimens (3,500 of which are identifiable to at least skeletal part) representing a minimum of 48 large mammal carcasses (most of them bovid) as well as over 2,500 Oldowan stone artifacts [4][18][19][20]. Bone weathering on the fossils from FLK Zinj indicates that the assemblage likely accumulated over a time range of 5-10 years [21][22].

FLK Zinj site contains some of the best-preserved evidence for meat-eating by hominins and has been extensively used to reconstruct early hominin behavior [22]. The Leakeys interpreted FLK Zinj as an “occupation” or “living floor” [3][23][4] on which hominins made stone tools to butcher a large size range of ecologically diverse mammals (e.g., Bunn [24], Potts and Shipman [25], Kroll and Isaac [26], Blumenschine and Pobiner [27]). Other interpretations have been offered (e.g., Potts [28]; Binford [29], Njau and Blumenschine [30]), but FLK Zinj epitomizes to many researchers an ancient progenitor of a modern hunter-gatherer home base to which a full group’s subsistence and social activities were tethered over consecutive days and nights [31].


Cited References

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  2. 2.

  3. 3.

  4. 4.

  5. 5.

  6. 6.

    Olduvai Gorge

    Cambridge University Press

  7. 7.

  8. 8.

  9. 9.

  10. 10.

  11. 11.

  12. 12.

  13. 13.

    Guide to Fossil Man

    University of Chicago Press

  14. 14.

  15. 15.

  16. 16.

    Geology of the Olduvai Gorge

    University of California Press

  17. 17.

  18. 18.

  19. 19.

  20. 20.

  21. 21.

  22. 22.

  23. 23.

  24. 24.

  25. 25.

  26. 26.

  27. 27.

  28. 28.

    Home bases and early hominids

    American Scientist 72

  29. 29.

  30. 30.

  31. 31.

This page was last edited on January 10, 2023 at 05:53:39 UTC