The Lower Valley of the Awash is located at the extreme north-eastern end of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, near Ethiopia’s border with Djibouti. It includes one of the most important groups of palaeontological sites on the African continent, where excavations since 1973 have revealed a wealth of hominid (and other animal) fossils dating back 4.4 million years, which have changed our view of human evolution. The most spectacular discovery was made in 1974 when 52 fragments of a small hominid enabled the reconstruction of the famous Lucy, an adult female of the species Australopithecus afarensis. At 3.2 million years old, Lucy provided the earliest record of one of our hominid ancestors walking on two feet. Although the dig sites are not open to the public, fundraising for a new interpretive center was completed in early 2011, and this will be built in the town of Eloaha, 30 km from the main Hadar excavation.
The Lower Awash Valley paleo-anthropological site is located 300 km northeast of Addis Ababa, in the west of the Afar Depression. It covers an area of around 150 km2.
Excavations by an international team of palaeontologists and pre-historians began in 1973, and continued annually until 1976, and ended in 1980. In that time, they found a large quantity of fossilised hominid and animal bones in a remarkable state of preservation, the most ancient of which were at least four million years old. In 1974, the valley produced the most complete set of remains of a hominid skeleton, Australopithecus afarensis, nicknamed ‘Lucy’, dating back 3.2 million years. Afarensis has since been proved to be the ancestral origin for both the Genus Australopithecus and Homo-sapiens.
A recovered female skeleton nicknamed ‘Ardi’ is 4.4 million years old, some 1.2 million years older than the skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis ‘Lucy’.
There is a wealth of paleo-anthropological and pre-historic tools still awaiting discovery and scientific study and these are seen as constituting an exceptionally important cultural heritage resource.