Earliest times

From oral history, archaeology, linguistic analysis and anthropology (although no written records), a certain amount can be deduced about the early history of Tanzania. The Olduvai Gorge has become known as the cradle of mankind and the era of Australopithecine man probably lasted several million years. The bones of two types of hominids from the Australopithecine era found there have provided evidence of human evolution. These are
, the 'Nutcracker Man' and
Homo habilis
, the 'Handy Man'. They lived together about 2 million years ago and until recently it was thought that
Homo habilis
, capable of using tools, evolved into
Homo erectus
, and then into modern man -
Homo sapiens
. But this is now under some debate as in 2001, in the Lake Turkana region of Kenya, a
Homo erectus
complete skull (1.4 million years old) was found within walking distance of an upper jaw of a
Homo habilis
(1.5 million years old). This proved that they must have lived in the region at the same time, and one theory now is that they have evolved from another, older common ancestor; a missing link that has not yet been found.
By about 500,000 years ago
Homo erectus
was on the scene (somewhere between the Australopithecine and
Homo sapiens
eras). The brain was larger and the hands more nimble and therefore better at making tools. The development of tool-making is clearly seen at Olduvai Gorge. The different layers of rock contain tools of different ages, which show the development from crude tools to more efficient and sharper implements. Another collection of such tools can be found at Isimila near Iringa .
The Middle Stone Age saw the further development of hunter-gatherers who used tools, and were advanced in human ingenuity and craftsmanship and the use of fire. Progress accelerated in the Late Stone Age, which began about 100,000 years ago, and there are a number of sites from this era in Tanzania, particularly well known because they are the locations of rock painting.
The virtual disappearance of these people was a result of the migration and expansion of other people who were more numerous and more advanced. The most significant factor about these migrating people was that instead of being hunter-gatherers they were food producers - either by agriculture or by keeping livestock. They spoke the language of the Cushitic group (legendary biblical descendants of the Cush in Ethiopia, Somalia and north Sudan) and came from the north from around 1000 BC onwards. They did not have iron-working skills and this meant that the efficiency of their agriculture was limited.

Bantu migration

Later still, during the past 1000-2000 years, two other groups migrated into the area. These were both Negroid but were of different linguistic groups - the Bantu from the west and the Nilo-Hamite pastoralists from the north. A process of ethnic assimilation
followed and the Cushitic intermarried with the newcomers and adopted their languages. The Bantu possessed important iron-processing skills, which greatly improved agricultural
efficiency and this enabled population growth. There was not one single migration but a series of waves of various groups, expanding and contracting, assimilating and adapting. The present ethnic mix is as a result of this process over many centuries.
The most recent of the Nilotic migrations was by the Masai. By about the year 1800 they had reached the area around Dodoma where their advance was stopped by the Gogo and the Hehe . Their reputation as a warrior tribe meant that the north part of Tanzania was largely avoided by slave traders and caravan routes.
As a result of these migrations north and central Tanzania has great ethnic diversity. In this part of the country there are Khoisan, Cushitic, Nilotic and Bantu-speaking peoples. The rest of the country is entirely Bantu speaking; indeed about 95% of Tanzanians born today are born into a family speaking one of the Bantu dialects. Swahili itself is a Bantu tongue and this has developed into the national language and as such is a significant unifying force.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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