Dancing A Jig With God

Did you know God had his own personal mountain here on Earth? Most people would probably think I’m talking about Mount Sinai or Ararat. The gringa’s actually referring to a strange place in Tanzania called Ol Doinyo Lengai. If you are a fan of Star Trek then you will understand what the gringa means when she says that this is truly where Gene Roddenberry got his inspiration for the Vulcan landscape. Sometimes the volcano shoots lava up in the air like a fountain where it hardens into sprays of glass although most of the time the lava just oozes like mud. Now that’s cool and everything but why is it called the Mountain of God instead of the Fountain of Glass?

Just as God is a one of a kind creature, so is Ol Doinyo Lengai.  It is the only volcano on our planet that spits out carbonatite when it erupts. This carbonatite curiosity is made even curioser because carbonatite usually stays beneath the surface of the earth.  And then there’s one more carbonatite curiosity aspect. Some of it is enriched with sodium which then makes it natro-carbonatite which is even rarer.

The volcano rises more than 9,700 feet (2960 meters).  That’s nearly two miles high. When it spews carbonatite rich lava, one more thing that makes this mountain unique is that there is practically zero silicon in its lava. Regular lava is usually made up of silicon, aluminum, iron, magnesium and all sorts of other minerals. However, Ol Doinyo Lengai is lacking in them. As the lava flows it actually looks like muddy water. When it cools the hardened lava sparkles in sunlight like a crystalline river. If it rains, the natro-carbonatite lava turns white then converts into a brown powder. That means that walking around the volcano might mean sinking ankle deep in soft, brown, powdery substrate.

Needless to say geologists and mineralogists all find this volcano a mystery. Hence the nickname, Mountain of God. And this fascinating geological enigma has only gotten stranger. Local villagers discovered more than 400 ancient footprints preserved in the mudflats surrounding the volcano. Researchers estimate that some could be as young as 5,000 years old while others could be almost 20,000 years old. That means a community that existed near this volcano for nearly 15,000 years. The British Empire has been around for less than 1,000 years. The heydey of Egypt was around 5,000 years ago when the great pyramid of Giza was constructed. Who the heck were the people these footprints belonged to?

For 10 years now scientists have been excavating and studying the footprints. Some of them depict a stride that indicate a people who appeared to be quite adept at jogging reaching speeds of almost 4.5 miles per hour. The gringa thinks they may have been hot-footing it out of the area when a rumble signaled an eruption was imminent. There was also an imprint of a foot with a broken toe. Other prints have been attributed to women and children. It seems the paths of an entire village from thousands of years ago have been preserved at the foot of the Mountain of God.

Are these the first people? If so God must have been a fun god. In one area there are so many footprints in unusual positions indicating frantic activity that scientists have dubbed it the “dance hall”. Maybe theologians have gotten it all wrong all of these years. Maybe God was actually a dance instructor. The gringa would have loved to have danced a jig there with one of my ancestors or even God himself (or herself). Enjoy the video.



National Geographic


Oregon State University


Image Credit: pbworks.com