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Bizarre Tanzanian Volcano May Destroy Ancient Hominin Footprints

A supremely odd volcano in Tanzania is rumbling and grumbling, and researchers suspect it may erupt “imminently”. But the fact that it’s just a stone’s throw from the scientifically important Olduvai Gorge, where ancient hominin footprints have been uncovered, means that researchers are concerned that a critical piece of human history may be lost.  

When it comes to mountains that spew molten rock, Ol Doinyo Lengai is a real oddity. The lava erupts at a bizarrely cool temperature of just 510°C (950°F), which is positively chilly compared to the normal temperature of lava, around 1,000°C (1,832°F). In fact, the lava is so cool, a man once fell into a crater of it, and survived. The strangeness of the lava doesn’t stop there, either, as it even flows like water.

But monitoring over the past few years has revealed something worrying. The volcano has started rumbling, with the magma beneath the surface physically lifting parts of the volcano upwards. The researchers are warning that this means an eruption is imminent, likely to occur within if not months, then a few years at the latest.


The footprints close to the volcano, and most likely to be destroyed, are thought to have been made some 19,000 years ago. Magdalena Paluchowska/Shutterstock

“There are increased ash emissions, earthquakes, uplift at small volcanic cones, and an ever widening crack at the top of the volcano on the west side,” volcanologist Sarah Stamps told National Geographic. “These are all signs of volcanic deformation that will likely lead to an eruption sooner rather than later.”

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