Kalambo Falls on Lake Tanganyika: The longest history of human occupation in sub-sahara Africa

The Kalambo Falls on the Kalambo River is a 772-foot (235 m) single-drop waterfall on the border of Zambia and Tanzania at the southeast end of Lake Tanganyika. The falls are some of the tallest uninterrupted falls in Africa (after South Africa’s Tugela Falls, Ethiopia’s Jin Bahir Falls and others). Downstream of the falls is the Kalambo Gorge, which has a width of about 1 km and a depth of up to 300 m, running for about 5 km before opening out into the Lake Tanganyika rift valley.

The falls were first seen by non-Africans in approximately 1913. Initially it was assumed that the height of falls exceeded 300 m, but measurements in the 1920s gave a more modest result, above 200 m. Later measurements, in 1956, gave a result of 221 m. After this several more measurements have been made, each with slightly different results. The width of the falls is 3.6–18 m.

Kalambo Falls is also considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Africa, with occupation spanning over 250,000 years.


Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Kalambo falls are known to be the second highest waterfalls in Africa and the twelfth in the world measuring about 221 metres high. Besides, the site has one of the longest history of human occupation in sub-sahara Africa. The last radiocarbon dating and amino acid racemisation has indicated an age of more than 100 000 years. The site has a wide range of tools, showing diversity in typology representing different cultural assemblage ranging from Stone Age to Iron Age groupings. There are a lot of archaeological artefacts present at the site and these include hand axe, cleavers, litchis, iron slag, cores, etc. There is evidence that primitive humans began using fire systematically some 60 000 years ago.

A number of crudely and finely made artefacts were discovered at Kalambo including the first authentic early stone industry, the Acheulian. This Acheulian Industry takes its name from the gravel pits of Saint Acheul in the Somme Valley of Northern France, which is one of the places where these characteristic stone artefacts were first recognised. The most outstanding and easily recognisable artefact in this Early Stone Age Industry was the pear-shaped, artificially trimmed stone hand axe.


As a result of the archaeological work done at Kalambo over the years, there is now the most complete, uninterrupted stratified sequence of cultural history from any site in Southern Africa and a continuous record stretching from approximately 60,000 years up to the present day.

In 1964, the archaeological site was gazetted as a national monument by Zambia’s National Heritage Conservation Commission. It has since been protected under Zambia’s 1989 National Heritage Conservation Act.

In 2009, Kalambo Falls was included on UNESCO list of tentative World Heritage Sites.

As of today, Kalambo Falls remains on the tentative list for recognition as a protected World Heritage site

Early tools from Kalambo Falls. Image sources from https://www.researchgate.ne


More on the Early History of Man in Zambia


A complex has been fully exposed showing the development of skills from the most distant past ,this ‘dig’ is enclosed at the Field Museum at the Victoria Falls.

The skull of Broken Hill Man, dated to 70 000 years ago, gives an indication of what humans of that period looked like.

Image sourced from http://whatsonafrica.org


Image sourced from http://sciencemag.org

It was during the next phase – the middle Stone Age – with its refinement in the manufacture of tools, differentiation between populations, and burial of the dead, that modern man probably emerged in Zambia, at least 25 000 years ago.

We may imagine family groups of small-statured people living near water and sustaining themselves by hunting the abundant game as well as gathering fruits, tubers and honey from their surroundings (some skulls show serious tooth decay caused by honey?) They would often be on the move, following the antelope as they migrated with the seasons. By 15 000 years ago, the Late Stone Age commenced.

People began to live in caves and rock shelters, the walls of which they decorated with paintings. Very few of these have survived Zambia’s seasonally humid climate, and those which have, do not display the sophistication found in the Rock Art found in Zimbabwe or South Africa. But a surviving drawing of an eland at Katolola in the Eastern Province suggests that this art was more than decorative, that it had a ritual or religious meaning: it has been shown in South Africa that this animal was sacred to the Late Stone Age people there.

This spiritual and artistic development occurred alongside another, the invention of the bow and arrow, which revolutionised hunting and also gave humans a mechanical weapon of war and a musical instrument.


Visit Kalambo Falls

Tourists wishing to visit the falls can drive there directly from the Mpulungu side of Lake Tanganyika, although the road condition is not great it is passable in a 4X4.

If you would like the challenge of walking to the falls from the lake, it is accessible by boat transfer from Mpulungu to the village where a guide can be organised to take you to the top. It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the top and requires good fitness.

We can organize  Lake discovery packages where we can drop you off to a partner lodge after/before you stay with us who can organize the tours for you.

Email us on info@ndolebaylodge.com if you are interested in one of these tours and we can either assist you or pass you onto a partner lodge who can help.


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