Near an unusual volcano in Tanzania is a shallow lake that preserves the bodies of dead animals, encrusting them in salt.
Lake Natron is an inhospitable place. It is hot, and water is scarce. The lake itself is too salty and alkaline to drink from. Algae sometimes give the water a pinkish tinge, but not much else lives there, except for a few Masai herders and flamingos that use the water as a moat to protect their nests from predators.
The lake’s chemistry is a result of Ol Doinyo Lengai, the world’s only active volcano of its kind. It spews a lava containing sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. You could make a reasonably accurate replica of Lake Natron in your kitchen by dissolving Arm & Hammer in a bowl of water, said Thure Cerling, a geochemist at the University of Utah who has worked in the region for 40 years.
“It’s an extremely fascinating place, and a really good place for getting wonderfully preserved animals,” Cerling said. The lava’s sodium dissolves in the water and essentially brines animals’ carcasses like salt pork.