Places to Visit: Hyrax Hill Pre-Historic Site and Museum

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If you are a history enthusiast then you know the Leakey family and the important work they have done discovering archaeological sites and telling stories of communities long gone. The Hyrax Hill Pre-historic site and Museum is one such place and was discovered by Louise and Mary Leakey. Hyrax Hill is a prehistoric site near Nakuru in the Rift Valley province of Kenya and makes for a great day trip from Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp.

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Before the house was declared a museum/gallery, it belonged to a white woman settler named A. Self who was a farmer. The structure/house was built in 1920 and to date retains in its original architectural design apart from a few minor repairs and renovations. The house had three rooms with the back rooms used as the kitchen and store. It was only after it was discovered as a settlement site that it was named Hyrax Hill, after a small mammal that lives in rocky areas. Hyraxes were once common in the rocky crevasses of Hyrax Hill, but their numbers have dropped in recent years due to the rapid urbanization of the surrounding area

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One day in 1926 as Mrs. Self was walking round her farm, she came across some stone bowls hidden under rocks. Out of curiosity, she invited Dr. Louise Leaky who was working at the nearby Nakuru Burial Site. He did not excavate it at the time because he believed it to be a recent occupation, and was busy working at several other sites.

Louis Leakey returned to the area in 1937 with his wife, Mary Leakey. It was Mary Leakey who began major excavations at Hyrax Hill. She excavated and named both Site I and Site II between 1937 and 1938. With no carbon dating technology available, dating the sites was difficult at the time. Leakey mistakenly described the Iron Age “Sirikwa Holes” as a pre-Iron Age village with “pit-dwellings.” Excavations at the site were not undertaken again until after Hyrax Hill was obtained by the National Museums of Kenya in 1965, at which time one of the Sirikwa holes was fully excavated by Ron Clark and museum staff for display at the museum.

Hyrax Hill is a rocky Lava Ridge situated on the edge of Nakuru-Nairobi Highway in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya in the Nakuru Basin. The summit of Hyrax Hill rises to an altitude of about 1900 m above Sea level and has undisputed views of most part of Nakuru.

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Venture out of Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp and discover the bush vegetation which covers about 70% of the site and is dominated by indigenous shrubs, giving you a breathtaking trail for nature walks and a hike up the Hyrax Hill is an adventure of its own. Beach Sands seen around the site suggest that once a very large lake surrounded the hill making it a central Island. The pre-historic Lake is believed to have covered the valley from Lake Nakuru stretching all the way to Lake Elmenteita in the East about 8,500 years ago.

Even more fun is to learn about the history of the Sirikwa people. They are believed to be descendants of Afro-Asiatic Cushitic group who migrated from Egypt following River Nile. It is believed that they inhabited the lake region of East Africa which could have extended from Lake Turkana in Kenya to Lake Eyasi in Tanzania in the South.

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Prominent between 12th and 15th Century, they disappeared as a community with culture and language in the 17th and 18th Century. From a combination of information, it is concluded that the Sirikwa were an early speaking community who later assimilated into Maasai, Kalenjin and other cultures.

They are believed to have introduced agriculture and herding of cattle especially of Egypt-Long horned variety in the region. They constructed hollows that were circular cattle pens dug into the hillside, fenced and walled measuring between ten to twenty metres broad.

The hollows were entered through narrow gates flanked by small guard houses on both sides of the entrance or the downhill side. In front or to one side of the entrance were accumulated mounds consisting of mud and dung, food bones and even broken pots. Their main diet was Milk,Meat and local beer.View points on top of the hills (Hillforts) were used by the warriors for security as vantage look outs. Excavated in the site are very shallow burial sites which suggest that could have been practicing some rituals and ceremonies too.

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Apart from telling the story of the evolution of man and being a site archaeological excavations, the Museum also contributes to conservation through their Tortoise farm.

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