New Olduvai Basin stratigraphy and stratigraphic concepts revealed by OGCP cores into the Palaeolake Olduvai depocentre, Tanzania

Ian G. Stanistreet, Harald Stollhofen, Alan L. Deino, Lindsay J. McHenry, Nicholas P. Toth, Kathy A. Schick, Jackson K. Njau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The Olduvai Gorge Coring Project (OGCP) drilled four boreholes 1A, 2A, 3A, 3B at three sites into the central palaeolake of the Olduvai Basin depocentre. Previously known Beds I, II, III, IV, Masek Beds and Ndutu are identifiable in the upper part of the cores, and from these formations predominantly lacustrine facies associations are recognised. These are described and then interpreted in terms of their palaeoenvironmental significance. However, stratigraphy known from natural outcrop exposures is more than doubled by strata intersected below. For example, an extra 135 m of pre-Bed I stratigraphy in Core 2A records the entire volcanic history of a fan-delta sourced from Ngorongoro Volcano. Beneath that fan sequence is an interval of fluvio-lacustrine non-volcaniclastic sediments. For the latter the new stratigraphic term Naibor Soit Formation is introduced, because these strata were discovered for the first time in Boreholes 2A and 3A, to either side of Naibor Soit Inselberg, where they thus lap onto its basement topography. The volcanically sourced unit above is named Ngorongoro Formation, including Marker Tuffs CFCT (Coarse Feldspar Crystal Tuff) and the Naabi Ignimbrite within its topmost portion. Only the dominantly lacustrine sediments above the main Ngorongoro sourced fan body are now attributed to Lower Bed I. The Ngorongoro Formation defined here contains primary Tuff Markers NgA to NgQ, and volcaniclastic fan-delta deposits that interfinger with and overlie claystones and interbedded sandstones of the fluvio-lacustrine Naibor Soit Formation. Boreholes 1A and 2A intersect the Bed I Basalt, but not Borehole 3A, where the position of the lava is marked by three separated volcaniclastic sandstone layers, containing pebble-sized basalt scoriae, likely correlating to three complex basalt flows at Locality 9A and Orkeri and allowing assessment of syn-basalt sedimentation. Disconformities bounding Beds I, II, III, IV, Masek Beds and Ndutu Beds provide important stratigraphic markers for the novel application of sequence stratigraphic concepts, as they mark lowstands of Palaeolake Olduvai, guiding outcrop to core correlations. Major disconformities are identified in: (1) Core 1A, where the Lower Bed II Crocodile Valley Incision Surface cuts out Tuff IF; (2) Core 1A, where disconformities and facies within Beds II, III, IV, and Masek Beds are identified; (3) Cores 2A and 3A, where Tuff IF is identified below the Lower to Middle Bed II disconformity; and (4) Lower Bed I claystones and Tuff IA in Core 3A that correlate to similar sedimentary units from Locality 66e in the Western Gorge, but which are absent from Core 2A because of a newly identified major disconformity, which causes the Bed I lava to sit directly on top of the CFCT marker.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109751
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Sep 15 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the Tanzanian institutions that permitted and co-operated with OGCP's research, including the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology ( COSTECH ), the Tanzanian Department of Antiquities and Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority ( NCAA ). The Stone Age Institute organised and funded the Olduvai Gorge Coring Project (OGCP) with grants from the Kamen Foundation, the Gordon and Ann Getty Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the Fred Maytag Foundation, and Kay and Frank Woods. JKN was funded by the National Science Foundation (BCS 1623873 ). We are also grateful for additional funding from Indiana University , Bloomington (JKN), the Stone Age Institute (JKN and IGS), and the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST) (JKN, IGS and HS). We also thank Anders Noren, Kristina Brady, Brian Grivna and staff of the LacCore facility at University of Minnesota for their full support and accommodation of logging and sampling of the core. This paper has hugely benefited from the painstaking suggestions and advice of three anonymous reviewers and Editor Howard Falcon-Lang.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Borehole core
  • Disconformity
  • Naibor Soit Formation
  • Ngorongoro Formation
  • Olduvai Beds

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • OGDP

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