David Western

Name ID 679

See also

Douglas-Hamilton, Iain and Oria Among the Elephants

David Western

from Amboseli, studying the ecology of the Maasai and wildlife

Extract ID: 1103

See also

Douglas-Hamilton, Iain and Oria Among the Elephants
Extract Date: 1970

Elephant Conference

[Iain Douglas-Hamilton] presents thesis at 'Elephant Conference' in Ndala.

John Owen, flew in;

Desmond Vesey-Fitzgerald, by Land-rover from Arusha;

Harvey Croze, and Nani came in a Combie;

Mike Norton Griffiths, and Annie, senior ecologist of the Serengeti;

Dennis Herlocker, an American in charge of forestry in the Serengeti;

David Western, from Amboseli, studying the ecology of the Maasai and wildlife drove in from Kenya;

Hugh Lamprey, Director Serengeti Research Institute flew his glider from the Serengeti

Extract ID: 200

See also

Willis, Delta The Leakey Family: Leaders in the Search for Human Origins
Page Number: 99
Extract Date: 1976

The way the first footprints were found

Twenty miles east of Laetoli, a volcano known as Sadiman erupted 3.65 million years ago. As the ashes settled to the ground, there was a series of rain showers.

Following one of these showers, a group of hominids walked in the Laetoli area. The ground was still wet and mushy, so they left their footprints behind them. When the sun came out and baked the ashes, these footprints were preserved, as hard as a fossil. Over the years, the winds brought in new sediments, and layers of earth covered many of these footprints. Some, however, were exposed by rains again recently. The first footprints to be found belonged to hares and to birds similar to guinea fowl.

While the KBS controversy was brewing in the mid-1970s, Mary Leakey devoted herself to exploring the Laetoli region. Much of her work at Olduvai had been completed, and she moved to this older site nearby in hopes of finding older stone tools. At the time, the oldest known stone tools were from the Omo, dated at 2.2 million years old. But Mary and her team had found older hominid fossils at the Laetoli sites, and the big question was, did these hominids make tools? As Mary has said, "In archaeology you almost never find what you set out to find."

The way the first footprints were found is as remarkable as it is funny. In September 1976, Mary welcomed a group of friends who had come down to Tanzania for a quick visit. The group included Kay Behrensmeyer, Andrew Hill, a paleontologist who worked for the Nairobi Museum, and Jonah Western [think she means David Western], an ecologist who worked at Kenya's Amboseli National Park. Mary was showing them the sites one day, and as they walked back to camp in the evening. Hill and Western began to toss elephant dung at each other. Elephant dung, when dried, is not offensive at all; it doesn't smell; it's just like a big cake of dried grass. Western buried a big piece at Hill, who ducked and fell on the ground.

Hill noticed some interesting-looking imprints in a flat gray surface. The first little dents he saw were later identified as raindrop prints. But it made him look around, and he found footprints of hares, birds and rhinos. Since then literally tens of thousands of footprints have been found in what became known as Site A, ranging from the tiny tracks left by insects to the massive depressions left by elephants.

Two years later a footprint was found that looked like the mark of a human heel. Excavations began, and it turned outthat the path of footprints went for over 20 yards. It looked as if two different hominids had walked there. Mary Leakey thinks they didn't walk at the same time. The path of one individual was very clear and distinct, while the other set of footprints was blurred and not as sharp. It appeared that they may have been impressed upon two different layers of ash which fell at different times.

Mary Leakey describes the Laetoli footprints as "perhaps the most remarkable finds I have made in my whole career." Because the footprints were so humanlike, she felt they could only have been left by one of our direct ancestors.

What do these footprints tell us about our ancestors? That they walked upright 3.65 million years ago. The shape of the foot is very similar to our own. Because no tools were found in this same level, these hominids must have walked upright before they used tools.

In addition to the footprints, Mary's team found part of a child's skeleton and several fossil remains of adults—two lower jaws, part of an upper jaw and a number of teeth. The best specimen of the lower jaw was called LH 4, for Laetoli Hominid number four. It would become a huge bone of contention.

Extract ID: 3285

See also

Reader, John Africa: A Biography of the Continent
Page Number: 55
Extract Date: September 1976


Chapter 6

The upright bipedal gait of humans is a unique and highly inefficient mode of locomotion, but the anatomy of modern apes, with 60 per cent of their body weight carried on the hindlegs, indicates that the common ancestor of apes and humans was pre-adapted to bipedalism. Environmental circumstances in Africa provide an explanation of why and how the fully upright stance and bipedal gait evolved in humans.

Laetoli lies roughly 500 kilometres to the south of the Tugen Hills. Late-twentieth-century walking enthusiasts could cover the distance comfortably in twenty-five days, and the journey certainly would not have deterred their ancestors, 4 million years before. Indeed, the safari must always have been enticing: south along the Western wall of the Rift Valley; perhaps taking a slow route through the high forest, where there is fruit and honey in season, or moving more speedily through wooded grasslands borderingthe foothills below. At intervals, perennial streams gush dependably from the Rift wall. There would have been (and are still) predators to be avoided, of course, but also their prey to be scavenged. The route rises up and over the Mau escarpment, where there is an option of following the forested course of the Uaso Nyiro River to Lake Natron, or turning towards the Loita Hills and the cool grasslands above the lake basin. Volcanoes dominated the landscape to the east of Olduvai; southward, herds of antelope and zebra congregated on the plain.

Andrew Hill made the journey by road in September 1976. At Laetoli, Mary Leakey and her co-workers were bringing the season of investigations to a close. The work that year had been inspired by the discovery of hominid fossils (among them a mandible subsequently described as the type specimen of Australopithecus afarensisf during an exploratory visit made during the Christmas holiday of 1974.

A host of fossils had been found, including animals ranging in size from shrew to elephant, tortoises, a clutch of beautifully preserved eggs matching those of the modern guinea fowl, and tiny leaves identical to those on acacias in the woodlands today. The Laetoli fossil beds had been dated to between 3'59 million and-3-77 million years old - just the period during which the bipedal ancestors of humanity were consolidating their presence in the Rift Valley - but hominid finds were scarce at Laetoli: a few fragments of jaw and some isolated teeth were found in T.97S, and some pieces of a juvenile skeleton in 1.976. After a promising start, it seemed the potential of the Laetoli deposits was not to be fulfilled.

That was the state of affairs when Andrew Hill went for a stroll one evening with David Western, a wildlife ecologist also visiting the Laetoli sites. Their walk took them across a dry river bed in which an expanse of fine-grained volcanic tuff was exposed. Elephants had recently passed that way too, and had left a number of their cannonball-sized droppings scattered about the river bed. In equatorial Africa, a sun-dried ball of elephant dung appeals to the same instincts that snowballs awaken in northern latitudes. People fling them at one another and, unsurprisingly, wildlife ecologists tend to be more adept than most. Dr Hill fell as he turned to avoid a particularly well-aimed missile from Dr Western. While on his knees, pleading for a brief cessation of hostilities, he noticed a curious spattering of tiny indentations in the surface of the grey tuff. These were later identified as raindrop prints but, having attracted Hill's attention, they led him to examine the surface more closely. Amid the puzzling indentations he recognized an unmistakable series of animal tracks'

People had crossed that indented tuff surface hundreds of times during the course of the previous two seasons, but always on the way to somewhere else, with a clear picture in mind of the fossils they were looking for. By chance, an airborne ball of elephant dung introduced a fresh point of view, instantly focusing the investigators' attention on the totally different fossil information that lay at their feet - fully visible, but hidden until then by the blinkers of preconceived notion.

Dr Hill's lucky fall redirected the thrust of the Laetoli investigations. Fossil bones were relegated to a level of secondary interest and during the final weeks of the 1076 season the identification of fossil footprints became the primary endeavour.

Hundreds of prints were found, representing more than twenty different animals, ranging in size from cat and hare to elephant, rhinoceros, and giraffe. Guinea-fowl prints were numerous, so too were the prints of small antelopes, hyenas, pigs, baboons, and hipparion, the ancestral three-toed horse. During the 1977 and 1978 seasons, seven distinct sites were located and mapped. Where desirable, overlying soils were removed. Mammal and bird prints occurred everywhere, wonderfully preserved in the fine-grained volcanic ash. Most wonderful of all was the trail, nearly fifty metres long, left by three hominids walking northward from the woodlands down to the plains.

The trail records a unique moment in time and its preservation is little short of miraculous. About 3.6 million years ago, a series of light ash eruptions from a nearby volcano coincided with a series of rain showers, probably at the onset of the rainy season. The ash filled depressions in the landscape, and the rain transformed them into mud pans. Animals crossed the pans while they were still wet, and their tracks were preserved as the ash dried hard as cement. The next shower of ash laid a protective covering over the tracks. A succession of ash and rain showers created at least six distinct surfaces on which prints are preserved; in total they are fifteen centimetres thick.

Sadiman and Lemgarut, the volcanoes whose ash created the Laetoli fossil beds, are no longer active, but the Laetoli landscape is otherwise not very different today from that which its inhabitants knew over 3 million years ago. The highland foothills are covered in dense acacia thornbush, and the upper slopes are swathed in grass that turns from green to golden as the dry season advances. Westward, the plain extends to a distant horizon, the broad undulating expanse broken here and there by huge steep-sided outcrops of granite and gneiss that rise from the grassland-like islands (indeed, in geological terminology they are known as inselbergs - island mountains): Naibardad, Naabi, and Moru, where there is always water. In shallow valleys, strands of woodland mark the watercourses along which the seasonal rains drain away to Olduvai Gorge, about forty kilometres from Laetoli. Elephants come down from the highlands; giraffes cross the plain, their legs blurred in the shimmering heat haze; lions lie concealed in the dun-coloured grass,

Extract ID: 3284