Experts set to study state of footprints at Laetoli riverbed
Anxiety is building up of what would be of the famous hominid footprints at Laetoli in Arusha Region as they are being exhumed starting yesterday.
Scientific experts from across the world are converging at a remote site near the Ngorongoro crater to witness the event amid controversy on how the 3.6 million-year old footprints should be best preserved.
Mr Donatus Kamamba, the director of Antiquities in the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism told The Citizen on the phone yesterday that the exercise would last for seven days.
He said archaeological experts from within and outside the country would oversee the digging of the ash bed with the footprints to get a clue of its state.
"After that the experts may decide on the best way they should be preserved either by relocating them elsewhere or leaving them at the same site," he added
Mr Kamamba, who previously opposed the idea of moving away the footprint track way that was buried in 1995, said he was not sure of the next host for the famous archeological relics.
"It is upon the researchers to say what should be done after observing the condition of the bedrock," he said from the site, some 250 km from Arusha.
The footprints, believed to be the oldest known such historical relic of human ancestors, were discovered by Dr Mary Leakey in a Laetoli river bed in Ngorongoro in 1978.
The site continued to draw visitors and researchers from across the world until the 1990s when the track way was reburied at the same site in order to save it from erosion.
The move to be spearheaded by scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute in the United States has, however, been criticised by a cross section of experts.
While some say the buried objects cannot be seen by visitors and stakeholders, others hated being preserved in a grave like monument.
President Jakaya Kikwete joined the fray a few years ago when he directed that the footprints be exhumed and displayed for the public to view them.
But Mr Kamamba noted yesterday that the on-going excavation was not being done to implement what the President had suggested.
"We will only find out how best the footprints should be preserved. As you are aware, scientists have been divided over this for years," he stated.
His remarks were echoed by Dr Audax Mabula, a senior lecturer of Archaeology at the University of Dar es Salaam who spoke on the phone from Karatu en route to Laetoli.
He said the footprint track way would be reburied again this time and that a decision to relocate the archaeological relic was at the moment "not even in sight."
Experts involved include archaeologists and allied scientists from the UDSM, the Antiquities Department, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), Tanzanian experts in Diaspora as well as those from Spain, US, Korea, Germany and South Africa.
Adam Akyoo, a public relations manager with NCAA added that experts to be involved would also come from Unesco. Laetoli is within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.