Dignitaries view the human origins exhibit created by University of Colorado Denver students

An exhibit that displays some of the world’s oldest human fossil footprints is prominently featured in a new Tanzanian museum and bears the stamp of University of Colorado Denver students.

Dignitaries from across the world joined Tanzanian President Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete in opening the National Museum and House of Culture in early December. Also at the opening was Charles Musiba, Ph.D., an associate professor of anthropology at CU Denver.

Musiba, a native of Tanzania, is director of CU Denver’s Tanzania Field School.

The school’s involvement with the current exhibit dates to 2007 when Musiba was approached by the Tanzanian Ministry of National Resources and Tourism to help them with an exhibit at the visitor’s center in Laetoli, where the field school is located.

“I agreed to do so because I saw such an opportunity for putting our students’ knowledge in human evolution to practical use,” Musiba said. “We developed a story board for the exhibit, which was supposed to educate Tanzanians and other visitors about the importance of preserving the 3.6 million years old human-like footprints at Laetoli.”

The director of the national museum then saw the story board and asked the field school students if they would do an expanded human origins exhibit at the planned new museum in Dar es Salaam.

CU Denver students began working on the exhibit, which includes the fossilized footprints and human skulls, in 2009. They finished in 2010 and sent the exhibit to the board of directors of the Tanzanian National Museum and House of Culture for approval.

It’s the first comprehensive and culturally appropriate human origin exhibit in Tanzania, said Musiba, who has been taking CU Denver students to his country for almost 15 years.

“Over 45 students participated in the preparation of the of the museum display panels, in creating and developing the story board and the design of the final product,” Musiba said. “The exhibit panels are bilingual in Kiswahili and English. They are now part of the permanent exhibit in the human origins hall.”

The other four exhibits in the new museum are: history of Tanzania, history of soccer, rock art paintings of Tanzania and children’s art and creativity in Tanzania. Invited guests to the museum’s inauguration included the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and other diplomats from Sweden, China, South Africa, Denmark, England, Germany and Denmark.

The Laetoli site is considered a one-of-a-kind location for the anthropological study of human origins. Brent Breithaupt, a regional official for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said, “This is one of the most spectacular sites on the planet. What Charles Musiba is doing cannot be understated.”

CU Denver students, thanks to the field school Musiba created, have left their mark on a display that is not only historically significant to Tanzania, but to the world.

“This has been a labor intensive and yet academically challenging project in which 45 CU Denver students have participated in the last three years as part of their field school experience in anthropology,” Musiba said.

(Photo: Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, Ph.D.,in the gray suit and red tie and third from right along far wall, is briefed by Paul Msemwa, Ph.D., about an exhibit on the human origin tree, created by CU Denver students in the Tanzania Field School, during last month’s opening of the National Museum and House of Culture in Tanzania. Many dignitaries, including the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, in white suit and on the far right along the wall, attended the opening of the museum. Also attending the opening was Charles Musiba, Ph.D., from the Department of Anthropology, who is the director of CU Denver’s Tanzania Field School.)

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