Leakey's Luck

Leakey's Luck

Cole, Sonia

1975

Book ID 52

See also

Cole, Sonia Leakey's Luck, 1975
Page Number: 112
Extract Date: 1935

First visit to Laetoli

The next adventure was an unpremeditated trip into completely trackless country, south of Olduvai and north-west of Lake Eyasi. It was prompted by a visitor, half Masai and half Kikuyu, who announced that he knew of stone-like bones similar to those they had been finding at Olduvai at a place called Laetolil, and he volunteered to guide them there. It proved to be beside a stream which the Germans had named the Vogel River, and the deposits, in heavily eroded 'bad lands', were different from those of Olduvai. In fact they were terrestrial rather than lacustrine, and contained many land tortoises and fossil rodents, but lacked aquatic animals such as hippos which were abundant at Olduvai. Eventually it was found that they were older than Bed I at Olduvai - a lava flow covering the deposits has now been dated to more than two million years.

Extract ID: 3337

See also

Cole, Sonia Leakey's Luck, 1975
Page Number: 112-113
Extract Date: 1935

The man who mended the clutch

After this brief reconnaissance [to Laetoli] they returned to Olduvai to find that the pool which they had been using for their water had turned to mud and become the property of a resident Rhino, who used it for his daily ablutions. Worse still, in order to keep the wallow moist he urinated into it freely. More inviting water supplies were available both at the spring at Olmoti and at Ngorongoro, but petrol was too short to be used for this purpose. They tried to collect rain water off the roofs of the tents, forgetting that the canvas had been impregnated with insecticide; there were dire results, and all the party were violently ill after drinking the water. By this time they were also running short of food. Sam White and Peter Bell were due to return to England, and the lorry taking them back to Nairobi was to bring much needed supplies to the garrison at Olduvai; but it never returned.

For the next fortnight Louis and Mary's diet consisted almost entirely of rice and sardines. An even greater hardship was the lack of cigarettes, and they had to resort to picking up fag ends scattered round the camp. When the lorry failed to appear after two weeks they set out to look for it. At one point they had to turn back as the road was in such a terrible state, and they spent the rest of the day helping to extract Indian traders' lorries from the mud. Their reward was a little flour and sugar, but they were still very hungry. Next their own car overturned in a gully, and they spent a whole day trying to extricate it with a plate and some spoons. (The lack of proper tools seems curiously uncharacteristic of Louis, who was usually so efficient.) Watching their efforts was a crowd of supercilious Masai warriors who considered it beneath their dignity to do any manual labour. It was just as well that Louis did not try to press them: almost at that very moment the District Commissioner at Narok was being murdered by Masai for ordering them to help with road work. Louis and the Masai treated each other with mutual respect, and many of them had cause to be grateful for the treatment they received at the clinics he ran at Olduvai.

The lorry turned up just in time to pull the car back on to the road - its delay had been caused by clutch trouble. (By a curious coincidence the man who mended the clutch at the Motor Mart in Nairobi became Mary's nearest neighbour at Olduvai thirty-five years later: he is George Dove, a 'character' with magnificent waxed moustachios who ran a delightful little tourist lodge at Ndutu, some thirty miles from Olduvai, in the early 1970's.) The car itself was in far worse condition than the lorry had been, with the whole of the bodywork damaged, but amazingly it was still able to run. Louis and Mary returned to Olduvai to pack up before setting off for their next target, a place called Engaruka.

Extract ID: 3126

See also

Cole, Sonia Leakey's Luck, 1975
Page Number: 113-114
Extract Date: 1935

Engaruka is in the middle of nowhere

Reck had been to Engaruka in 1913 and told Louis of burial mounds there, and in Arusha Louis had heard reports of a mysterious 'ruined city' capable of housing a million people; there were even rumours of 'inscriptions' (which in fact consist of some pecked lines and marks which mean nothing in any known language). When he was asked by the Tanganyika Government to make a report, therefore, he willingly agreed and set out full of curiosity and anticipation.

Engaruka is about forty miles from a village with a colourful market known as Mto wa Mbu, 'River of mosquitoes', where everyone stops on the way to Olduvai to buy tomatoes and bananas. Engaruka itself is in the middle of nowhere, on the floor of the Rift Valley between Lakes Manyara and Natron. There is a track of sorts leading to it, but even today it is one of the dustiest in East Africa, which is saying a good deal, and the only landmarks are the occasional magnificent baobab tree. When Louis and Mary went there in 1935 the track was almost invisible. Suddenly, with no apparent reason, in the middle of the bush there is a cluster of huts; but in fact there is a very good reason for their presence, for just behind them a glorious stream of clear water cascades down the scarp of the Rift, That is why a settlement existed at Engaruka in iron age times, and why there is one there today. On the slopes above the present village is a huge complex of stone walls, hut floors and cairns, now known to spread over ten square miles. By building a system of terraces and ditches, crops could be irrigated from the river (by damming the stream it is still possible to divert water along the ancient channels). Louis and Mary excavated a couple of cairns but were disappointed to find no burials in them.

They also dug beneath a hut floor, where they found only a few potsherds, beads and scraps of iron. In his estimate of the number of huts in the hill ruins, which he put at 6,000-7,000, Louis exaggerated. Allowing for five people per house this would give a population of some 30,000, with another 3,000 or so living in the valley ruins below. 'There is a vast job to be done here,' he concluded. 'The surveying alone would take one man about two years to do really properly,'" However, he decided that this was protohistory, not prehistory, and he was not the man to do it. It was another thirty years before anyone tackled Engaruka.

Extract ID: 3336

See also

Cole, Sonia Leakey's Luck, 1975
Page Number: 215

Ylla - the pen name of Ylla Koffler

Louis dipped into his almost unlimited store of animal knowledge to write the text of Animals in Africa (1953) to accompany photographs taken by the incomparable Ylla - the pen name of Ylla Koffler. Even today, when so many lavishly illustrated coffee table books on animals are produced, few can rival her art with the camera of twenty years ago. Ylla of the bright eyes and infectious laugh will long be remembered by those who knew her all over the world, for she was truly international. Ylla had a bird-like quality, perching briefly in New York, Paris or London before flying off on photographic safaris to East Africa or India, where she was killed falling out of a jeep.

Extract ID: 3278
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