The inhospitable region of Lake Natron was not explored by Westerners until well into the 19th century. Between 1882 and 1883, the German explorer Gustav Adolf Fischer undertook his historic voyage into Maasai territory for the Hamburg Geographic Society. His explorations provided important ethnographic and linguistic notes on the Maasai, as well as botanical and geographic information on their territory. During these early years it was mainly German explorers and scientists who occupied themselves with the geography, cartography and geology of the Lake Natron Basin and, particularly, of Oldoinyo Lengai. This volcano attracted the attention of the biologist O. Neumann in 1894, and of the M. Schöller expedition of 1896-1897 to Equatorial East Africa and Uganda. Samples of its odd, sodium-rich lava became the subject of many studies back in Europe. Of particular importance were the expeditions of the German geologists F. Jaeger and C. Uhlig. Between 1904 and 1910, under the auspices of the Otto Winter Foundation, they undertook a series of geological studies and made a map of the region.

In 1913, the prolific German palaeontologist and vulcanologist Hans Reck, following his palaeontological expeditions to the fossiliferous Jurassic enclave of Tendaguru (on Tanzania’s southern coast), visited the Lengai. During this same expedition he undertook the first conscientious study of the prehistoric site of Engaruka. At the end of the same year he visited Olduvai Gorge, of which the German entomologist Wilhelm Kattwinkel had brought news in 1911.