Valley on the Lower Reaches of the Omo River (World Heritage)

The Homo sapiens fossils discovered on the lower reaches of the Omo are around 200,000 years old and are considered to be an important building block for research into human evolution. The Omo flows in southern Ethiopia and flows into Lake Turkana. Its ancient, thick layers of sediment are considered a treasure trove for paleontologists.

Lower Omo River Valley: Facts

Official title: Valley on the lower reaches of the Omo River
Cultural monument: In a deposit basin up to 4 million years old, fossil site of human species (Australopithecines), including Australopithecus africanus and boisei, as well as Homo habilis and Homo erectus, as well as a reconstructable skull of Homo sapiens, called “Omo I”
Continent: Africa
Country: Ethiopia, Gamo Gofa
Location: Southwest of Ethiopia, near the Sudanese border
Appointment: 1980
Meaning: an important building block for the seamless research into human evolution

Valley on the Lower Omo River: History

4-3.5 million years ago Australopithecines
2-1.7 million years ago Homo habilis
1.7-0.7 million ago Years Homo erectus
130,000 years ago homo sapiens
1967-75 Excavations of different types of australopithecines

Formerly a sense of community

“Thirteen months of sunshine a year” was the promise of Ethiopian tourism advertising before the country sank into the chaos of civil war in the mid-1970s. In the lower Omo river valley, which winds in huge loops towards Lake Turkana, the relentlessly burning sun transforms the bare tuff rocks into boiling-hot heat stores. This monotonous natural landscape, covered with cones of volcanic ash, extends to the horizon.

In this barren and dry area, a team of researchers from France came across finds of human-like beings during the 1930s. Three decades later, at the invitation of Emperor Haile Selassie, a second expedition, this time with an international cast, was allowed to carefully explore the excavation sites one last time.

The Frenchman Yves Coppens, who led the excavations, came up with a number of sensational finds: His team, which had eight years to spare, buried the well-preserved lower jaw in layers of soil that could be dated to almost three million years ago a representative of the hominid genus. At first, experts did not attach great importance to this find.

Later called »Australopithecus aethiopicus«, the representatives of this genus are generally considered to be the forerunners of today’s humans. They had already walked upright in the manner of Homo sapiens, and their brain volume had also increased steadily in the course of the development chain.

Other fossilized finds from the Omo Valley could be identified over the course of time as the remains of around 30 human-like creatures; Scientists classified the sensational finds from this part of Ethiopia in four of today’s six Australopithecus species from different epochs in the history of the earth.

Finally, one came across the remains of Homo erectus, who is considered to be the immediate ancestor of man today. The skulls of early forms of Homo sapiens, which entered the history of the earth around 600,000 years ago, were also found in the Omo Valley and are thought to be between 40,000 and 130,000 years old. A variety of animal fossils, which by now was barely manageable and which gradually came to light during excavations, made it possible to understand the development of the East African fauna.

Subordinated to the Ethiopian antiquity administration since the 1980s, the lower section of the river with its neighboring national park probably served as a central settlement site during the early prehistory. The relics of stone tools, which in some cases had already been created 2.5 million years ago, provided some information about the coexistence of early humans. In their processing, the devices, which are well preserved in the volcanic ash, differ significantly from finds from other Ethiopian excavation areas according to indexdotcom.

Homo habilis, the earliest representative of the human species, used abundant pebbles to make his tools. By means of repeated impacts, they splintered into the desired shape. The fist-sized hand axes and sharp-edged stone tools found in the Omo Valley, which were probably used for cutting, are by far the oldest relics of craftsmanship. It is very likely that the residents living together in the settlements were already doing their craft together.

As the stone tools from the “Oldowan” and “Acheuléen” cultural stages prove, the archaic craftsmen remained loyal to the primitive tool forms for hundreds of thousands of years. Findings from today’s Ethiopia that are still waiting to be discovered may give our society, whose exponentially growing knowledge is outdated after a short time, new information about the previously unexplored learning culture of early human communities.

Valley on the Lower Reaches of the Omo River (World Heritage)