The great pyramids at Giza, EgyptElephants crossing the Zambezi river in Mana Pools National Park world heritage site, ZimbabweThe great mosque in the Old Towns of Djenne world heritage site, MaliBlack and white ruffed lemur, Rainforests of the Atsinanana world heritage site, Madagascar

Lower Valley of the Omo - Ethiopia

Map showing the location of fossil hominid sites in the Lower Valley of Omo UNESCO world heritage site (Ethiopia)

Website Category: Human Origins  

Area: unknown 

Inscribed: 1980 

Criteria: (iii) cultural tradition (iv) icon of an era

Location and Values:  The Lower Valley of the Omo is in the remote southwest corner of Ethiopia, close to the border with Kenya, in the Great Rift Valley.  The site is of immense importance for its hominid fossils, which have contributed immeasurably to our understanding of human origins. These fossils include the remains of Homo gracilis and Australopithicines, as well as the earliest known bone fragments of Homo sapiens, dating from 195,000 years ago.  In addition there are rich beds of other mammal fossils.

The boundaries of the world heritage site are not clear from available documentation, but the UNESCO website implies the inclusion of the 4,068 km2 Omo National Park which occupies the West bank of the river, some 100km north of the point where the Omo river spills into Lake Turkana . 

Slideshow of the Lower Valley Of The Omo:  These few photographs show the banks of the lower Omo River, downstream from the Omo National Park and a short distance from the delta formed where it flows into Lake Turkana.  The fossil skulls of various mammals, including a hominid skull, are from the area covered by the world heritage site.  They are on display at the Ethiopian National Museum in Addis Ababa.

Comments and Impressions:  This is a very remote area which is rarely visited because of its inaccessibility.  It can only be reached by chartered light aircraft, or four-wheel drive vehicles after a gruelling drive through difficult terrain several days from the nearest paved highway.  There’s not much to see of the hominid fossil excavation sites, but the area is extremely beautiful, rich in wildlife and has an extraordinary wealth of traditional human cultures – small tribal groups exhibiting an amazing wealth of body decoration and adornment.  This has clearly been an important crucible of human cultural evolution, and remains so to this day.

Google Earth View:  To view satellite imagery of the Omo Valley on Google Earth, click here.  This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing other world heritage sites.

Photographic guide to human evolution and key hominin fossils discovered at sites across Africa (14-page downloadable pdf document)



Want to know more?

Download this 14-page guide to the key hominin fossils found across the continent, and the story of human origins and evolution.  The Guide is based on displays at the National Museum of Kenya (Nairobi) and includes a narrative on human evolution; photos of 19 key hominin fossils; artists impressions of four human ancestors; a map of hominin fossil locations; a diagrammatic representation of the human family tree; and 'interest boxes' on stone tools and methods of dating fossils. To download this free educational guide, click here.




Links to other places in the human origins category:  Awash Valley  I  South Africa   Ngorongoro 

Other Links:    Official UNESCO Site Details

Fossil primate skull from the Lower Valley of Omo UNESCO world heritage site (on display at the National Museum, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia) Reconstructed fossil hominid skull similar to those found in the Lower Valley of the Omo UNESCO world heritage site (on display at the National Museum, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia) The Ome River flowing through the Lower Valley of the Omo UNESCO world heritage site (Ethiopia) Local people using dugout canoes to cross the Omo River close to the Lower Valley of the Omo UNESCO world heritage site (Ethiopia)



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