Our Fossil Ancestors in Turkana

|Our Fossil Ancestors in Turkana

As students began their study of hominins and the evolution to bipedalism, they began their study by comparing and contrasting skeletal parts between modern humans, modern apes, and finally, our fossil ancestors. Below are pictures from students’ lab activity on parts of the skeleton of modern humans, apes, and fossil hominins.

Dr. Skinner leads a walk to identify parts that differ between humans and apes

Dr. Skinner leads a walk to identify parts that differ between humans and apes

Image from http://anthro.palomar.edu/hominid/australo_2.htm

Image from http://anthro.palomar.edu/hominid/australo_2.htm

Sam and Dylan study the human skeleton

Sam and Dylan study the human skeleton

Kate and Mike examine leg bones

Kate and Mike examine leg bones

Jayde and Larisa look at the canine of a chimpanzee

Jayde and Larisa look at the canine of a chimpanzee

Dylan and Anna examine teeth size

Dylan and Anna examine teeth size

Dylan and Rachel compare the joints of two different species.

Dylan and Rachel compare the joints of two different species.

Larisa and Mike examine the differences between bones of two species

Larisa and Mike examine the differences between bones of two species

Page and Kate take time to pose with hominin casts

Page and Kate take time to pose with casts of early hominins

There is still debate on whether our ancestors became bipedal from a terrestrial or arboreal ancestor and why (shift to savannah, hands to carry, threat, thermoregulation, etc.).  Whatever the case, during the Late Miocene the earliest putative hominins appear in Chad, Kenya, and Ethiopia. The diagram below is a timeline showing the age and appearance of each hominin species and is our current understanding of human evolution. Another great diagram and interactive website is Human Family Tree from the Smithsonian.

Our current understanding of human evolution

Our current understanding of human evolution. Science Magazine

In the Turkana Basin, fossils have been uncovered of Australopithecus anamensis Australopithecus afarensis, Kenyanthropus platypus, Paranthropus boisei, Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens.

Visit to South Turkwel – Pliocene deposits

On our last day of field work, we explored the Pliocene deposits of South Turkwel.  Here, fossils have been uncovered that belong to Australopithecus afarensis and A. africanus.

Field School students move slowly across the screened area where hominid teeth has been found by Dr. Meave Leakey's fossil team.

Field School students move slowly across the screened area where hominid teeth has been found by Dr. Meave Leakey’s fossil team.

While sitting on the ground and "playing" with the dirt, Jayde Hirniak stumbles on a tooth fragment. Upon examination, Dr. Skinner determines it is definitely hominid and leaves it at the site for Dr. Meave Leakey to return to and examine.

While sitting on the ground and “playing” with the dirt, Jayde Hirniak stumbles on a tooth fragment. Upon examination, Dr. Skinner determines it is definitely hominid and leaves it at the site for Dr. Meave Leakey to return to and examine.

Not one paleoanthropologist but two! Drs. Richard and Meave Leakey return to the South Turkwel site and pick up the fragment. Back at the lab, it turns to be a perfect fit within a tooth already collected from the site.

Not just one paleoanthropologist but two! Drs. Richard and Meave Leakey return to the South Turkwel site and pick up the fragment. Back at the lab, it turns to be a perfect fit within a tooth already collected from the site.

By | 2017-01-04T18:04:47+00:00 March 26th, 2015|Field Schools, Spring 2015|Comments Off on Our Fossil Ancestors in Turkana

About the Author:

Hi I'm Linda. I'm the Resident Academic Director for the Origins Field School. In addition, I'm a geologist. I have been working in the Turkana Basin since 2011 and am interested in reconstructing the past landscape on which our ancestors evolved.