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Tanzania celebrates 50th anniversary of Leakey’s discovery of humanoid skull in Oldupai Gorge.

Fifty years ago this July 17, evolutionary history was rewritten in Tanzania, the largest country in East Africa.

British archeologists Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey, working on bone and fossil analysis in Oldupai Gorge in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (now a UNESCO Heritage Site) discovered a skull that would change all prior scientific hypotheses.

Their exciting discovery was a humanoid skull with huge teeth that they named Zinjanthropus or “Zinj.” The excellent condition of the skull allowed scientists to date the beginnings of mankind to about two million years ago, and to verify that human evolution began not in Asia, as previously thought, but in Africa. In keeping with the significance of this information, Oldupai Gorge is now known as “The Cradle of Mankind.”

“Zinj”, whose name was later changed to Australopithecus Boise, after Charles Boise who funded the Leakeys’ research, is not a direct human ancestor, but is the first specimen of this species ever found, and at the time of his discovery, the oldest hominid. Two decades later, footprints found at Laetoli, south of Oldupai, were interpreted as those of hominids even older: 3.5 to 4 million years old.

To celebrate this historical discovery, the Leakey’s organized a family reunion in Tanzania on July 17, 2009. To round of the special day, Philip Leakey, son of Louis and Mary and a former member of Parliament and cabinet minister in Kenya, and his wife Katy, marketing Kenyan jewels and ”anthropological travel”, came afterwards for dinner and overnight at Onsea House in Arusha.

This year, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism through the Department of Antiquities and the National Museum of Tanzania will mark this historic find with the International Conference on Zinjanthropus in Arusha, Tanzania from August 16-22, 2009. The conference will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the discovery as well as explore new information on human origins, conservation and other allied studies. A special workshop on Louis and Mary Leakey has been organized by the East African Association for Paleoanthropology and Paleontology.