The Great Rift Valley

The Great Rift Valley, Tanzania

As a historian, one of my favorite things to do is to go back to the beginning. The Great Rift Valley is the beginning. At this point it has long been believed that this valley system located in the eastern African country of Ethiopia is the environment in which some of the first humans walked the planet.

Rift valleys exist all over the world. These are usually lowland regions that form where the earth’s tectonic plates move apart, or rift. The East African Rift System (EARS) is one of the geologic wonders of the world. It began developing around the onset of the Miocene Era about 22-25 million years ago.

Interestingly, within the rift valley in Tanzania, an indigenous ethnic group still lives as our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The Hadzabe live around Lake Eyasi and are considered one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa with about 1300 tribe members. The Hadzabe diet is primarily plant based but also consists of meat, fat, and honey.

Within the Great Rift Valley lies the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera which is a cauldron like hollow that forms shortly after the emptying of a magma chamber in a volcanic eruption. So basically, the crater was formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself – all of which happened about 2 to 3 million years ago. The crater itself extends 12 miles which accounts for 102 square miles of wilderness. In 2013, Ngorongoro Crater was voted by Seven Natural Wonders as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.

The crater supports about 25,000 large animals, mostly ungulates which are large mammals with hooves. The Ngorongoro Crater is also home to the Big 5 – lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and the African buffalo. The crater is often referred to as “Africa’s Garden of Eden”.

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