Friday, May 8, 2009

Sand stone pillars at Isimila gorge in Iringa, a wonderful historical site

TANZANIA is one of the unique destinations on the African continent that has yet to be discovered by many of its citizens who are still unaware of some attractive historical sites located in the country, probably this is due to the fact that tourist sites are far away from traditional media publicity. there are a lot to be explored in Southern Highland regions in terms of tourism for the historical and archaeological ventures in places like the Isimila stone age site where one can view wonderful stone pillars formed as a result of soil erosion on the land leaving the red standing pillars that occurred hundreds of years ago.

This is the Isimila Stone Age site which is located at the foot of a small hill believed to have cages where ancient people lived.

These are found in Isimila village not far away from Iringa town. As you travel along Iringa-Mbeya Road on your left hand side, it’s about 20 km. Its location is at the foot of a small hill believed to have had caves on which the ancient people lived. You could easily take a glimpse of a sign post by the road side that indicates the Stone Age site. Situated in an eroded valley, the site occupies a 33 hectares of land of what was once a lake bed. It is in this site whereby the amazing richest finds of Stone Age tools known as Acheulian type including the bones and skeletons of pre-historic animals were discovered in 1951.

A sign post showing the direction of the Isimila Stone Age site, it’s located about 20 Km away from Iringa town just at a junction point of the main road going to Mbeya.

It is nothing less than incredible physically to see the massive numbers of hand-cut stones collected in a small hut and the stone implements found in this site are those types which resembles stone tools used by ancient people during the early stone age period about 300,000 years ago. Historically, the main targets of the people who specifically engaged in preparing these stone age tools at that time was to cater for the need of their hunting expedition only. The site is currently administered by the Department of Antiquities of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.

Another sign post by the roadside leading to the site at Isimila village.

The Isimila Stone Age site is linked by a 1 km distance of a corrugated road locally constructed from the junction of the main road and passes through the village huts, you will come to the site’s office. A guide/caretaker lives nearby and a charge is made for a tour of the site at the small Museum. Showers, toilets, car park and a picnic shelter have been built within the site. An interesting extension to one’s visit is a walk up of the nearby gorge where there are several eroded cliffs standing like ‘Stone Pillars’ with columns tower overhead.

A site guide, Mr. Donatus Lihoha explaining a point to visiting Tumaini University of Iringa on how the ancient people made stone as implements used for their hunting expedition.

These are sometimes called earth pillars standing in arrays along a 2 km gorge. The height of each pillar is variable, ranging between 20 and 30 feet high from the basement of the eroded land. According to a geographical research work carried out in this site, down to the valley long time ago was a large swampy dam whereby animals used to visit to quench their thirst, but the dam dried up due to the geographical weather changes of the land. Before scholars came to research on smaller stone tools, local inhabitants who were living close to the area were the first to discover them and sent message to the colonial government which later brought archeologists to carry an excavation work.

This is a guide’s hut whereby all visitors have to sign before entering the main site to view stone implements as well as stone pillars at Isimila gorge or Korongo.

The site was discovered in 1951 by Mr. D.A.Maclennan of the St. Peters School in Johannesburg, South Africa who was on his way from Nairobi to Johannesburg. He collected some stone tools from the site and deposited them for the archeological survey. The first excavation work at the site was carried out by experts from Chicago University in USA. These were Dr. F. Clark Howell and his fellow Director Dr. Glan Colen. The work took place between July-November 1957. Both directors were accompanied by a Tanzanian scholar Mr. Mturi who by then represented Tanganyika’s government. Ten years later, they were followed by Dr. C.M.Keller and Dr. Carl Hansen both from Illon University in USA. During these two excavations, Dr. F.G.Haldeman and Dr. R.Pickening of geological survey in Dodoma also carried geological survey of the Isimila site.

It was a tiresome journey over the little hilly spot, and visitors had to navigate along the winding paths to get to Isimila gorge where are stone pillars.

This was the second excavation work which was done by these scholars when Tanganyika (Now Tanzania) had attained its independence, and also the late Professor Mturi of the archeological department of the University of Dar es Salaam represented the Tanzanian government in this expedition. The third excavation work at the site was carried out in 2003, this time by experts from the Republic of South Korea. The excavators stayed at the site for a couple of one month. The team had 14 people led by Dr. Kidon Bahe and Dr. Fidelis Thomas Massawe represented Tanzanian government.
According to one tour site guide, Mr. Donatus Lihoha, the fourth excavation on the site is scheduled to take place in September 2009. All tools excavated at the site in previous excavation work were found to be the same as those used by ancient people during the early Stone Age period almost 300,000 years ago. According to the research findings by scholars is that, it is believed that much of the area was at one time covered by a small lake created by a landslide that slipped into a valley west of the site. Not very deep, the lake measured roughly 1 km (half a mile). It was fed by a stream in the east and contained some sections of reeds and marsh. The fast moving water from the stream carried with it a slit together with gravel and sand. At the point where the stream met the lake, the flow of water was slowed to a halt and the sediment quickly fell to the bottom, eventually building up in mass. When the lake begun to dry up, a stream from the Kipolwi river in the west started to cut back towards the dried depression, creating the present gorge or ‘Korongo’ as it’s called in Swahili language, or dry watercourse as it cut through the surface deposits and lake beds. Though the stream is now almost completely dry, the years of erosion resulting from the seasonal passage have exposed the primitive tools which could now be seen at the site.

These are natural pillars, or sometimes known as stone or earth pillars standing in array along the 2 Km gorge known as Isimila gorge or Korongo. A wonderful site indeed. Students took most of their time to admire them.

These tools were given names by excavators according to their shapes that mostly looked like normal tools used by local ordinary hunters of today’s world. These are Axes, Knives, Scrappers and Spears. There were also stones prepared in oval shapes and these are said to have been used in sling shot to kill animals in their hunting expeditions. All these tools were made from hard rocks known as granite and according to their specific work designed for each tool, such as stone like knives had sharpened edge and these were used for cutting while scrappers were used for skinning, spears were used for killing animals. Stone age man is believed to have camped along the lake shore and the many streams, where he gathered water or hunted animals as they came to drink water. It’s here that he worked diligently, fashioning his tools proof of which is not only the multitude of tools found in the area, but also the blocks, cobbles and boulders that served as part of his production process. Also found are the flakes chipped off his tools in his pre-historic factory. The stone from which the tools were fashioned was mainly granite and quartzite. Many fossilized bones have also been found in the area, among them those of elephant and a mammal related to the modern day giraffe, but having a shorter neck. Tools found at Isimila Stone Age site are believed to have been existed thousands of years ago and the proof of this was done on the excavated Hippopotamus bones plus the human skeletons found at the site and taken for test by carbon 14 test which ultimately gave the results of their long life span.

Visitors admiring a handful of stone implements made by ancient man which have been preserved in a hut at Isimila Stone Age site.

Since the first excavation work in 1957, Isimila site was declared a national historical site under the then Ministry of Culture and Education of the colonial government before it was transferred to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in 1999, 38 years after the country attained its independence. At the site there are existed two huts built since 1957 on which a handful of the stone tools were collected and preserved up to today. There is also another hut built at the bank of the valley on the other side, this was also built in the same year for the same purpose. Since the year 2007, the site has undergone major improvements by opening up a site museum and an information centre. The museum represents human development activities in the area from as early as Acheulian period to the present. Visits to the Stone Age site and the natural pillars are best undertaken during the early morning and late evening hours as there is a tiresome walking distance involved through a couple of semi steep slopes which requires slow navigation.

Mary Mbwana, a journalist taking a photo of the Information centre at Isimila Stone Age site.

The area has become one of the most tourist sites in the country attracting over 25,000 visitors per year, both local and foreign tourists. According to a tour guide Mr. Lihoha, great number of foreign tourists comes from the USA, UK and German. According to him, foreigners pays Tshs. 3,000/- per person while an ordinary Tanzanian who is not a student pays Tshs. 1,000/-. Students from higher learning institutions pays Tsh. 500/- while students from secondary schools and pupils from primary schools pays Tsh 200/- each. The Isimila site museum therefore present ethnographic, historical and archeological material from the Southern Highlands region of Tanzania purposely to highlight people’s ingenuity as manifested by material culture showing technological continuity and innovations.

No comments: