Back to the Stone Age!

|Back to the Stone Age!

We often find archaeological discoveries very attractive and a lot of them are about lost civilizations and cavemen eating each other in Eurasia or the Americas. In Africa, however, a lot of the archaeological material is from stone tools. Stone tools are a type of material culture of ancient populations that can go back millions of years ago. Stone tool technology is not just about different forms of tools, but about the brains behind those tools! By reconstructing the sequence of how a specific type of stone tools is made, we can interpret the amount of planning it requires for the ancient humans to make them. And not surprisingly, stone tool making went from simple to complex in the human evolutionary history. With Dr. Sonia Harmand, we learned different types of stone tools: what they look like and how they are made.


Dr. Sonia Harmand talks about stone tool morphology

A very important part of the Archaeology module is lab work. The best way to learn different stone tool technology is to compare them side by side. Students first went over typical archaeological materials: cores, flakes, points, blades, etc. Then we learned how to create scientific drawings to reflect the morphology of stone tools. TBI has an excellent stone tool collection for teaching. Most of them were made by expert knappers using raw materials found specifically in the Turkana Basin and they look exactly like what we may find in the field. Students spent a lot of time with these beautiful tools before they went out for their adventures.


Students at work


Brian, Maria, Meredith and Meg observing stone tools of different size and shape


Taylor and Pamela exchange ideas


Large handaxes and small flakes



Meg is listening to Dr, Harmand, while Jeanette is listening to the the stone tool!


Abel looks at a Acheulean handaxe


Jeanette works on her scientific drawing


Kenneth is focused


Kennedy’s drawing is looking good!


A example of student’s drawings

When it comes to fieldwork, the Turkana Basin has a lot to offer! There are archaeological sites almost everywhere in the Turkana Basin. Some of them are older, some are younger. We have visited a few important archaeological sites on the east side of Lake Turkana in the Geology module. Here on the west side, there are even more sites! The first site we went was Ayangiyeng, about half an hour away from TBI Turkwel. The site is the least conspicuous I have ever seen. At first look, there is nothing more than just sand, but is it littered with artifacts: blades, cores and pottery. Students set out to map where they could find artifacts, and to explain what they have found to each other. It was a great exercise for the students because they had to name the features they found on the artifacts! Everybody did very well in this practicum and now they are ready for more challenges in the field!


Dr Harmand gives instructions in the field


We use flags to mark artifacts


Flowers in the desert! Students are busy with flagging


Jeanette found a quartz flake


Meredith found a basal flake


Dr. Harmand explains what Talor just found


Mattia found something different


Laura explains to Dr. Harmand what she found


Boyu is consulting Dr. Harmand


Tristan tries to identify the artifact


Rainclouds over Ayangiyeng

It was Taylor’s birthday yesterday! And as a loyal Lord of the Rings fan, he received a special cake: Sauron’s eye! Happy birthday, Taylor!


This week, students will have a chance to visit a number of other archaeological sites on the west side of Lake Turkana! We are going for a three-day camping trip at Nariokotome where the “Turkana boy” Homo erectus skeleton was found. And we will visit a few significant sites on our way there, including the site where the oldest known stone tools have been found. Stay tuned for more!

By | 2017-01-04T18:04:38+00:00 November 15th, 2015|Fall 2015, Field Schools|Comments Off on Back to the Stone Age!

About the Author:

Hello! My name is Deming Yang. I am the Resident Academic Director for the Origins Field School, Spring 2018. I am a PhD candidate in the IDPAS program at Stony Brook University and a TBI graduate fellow. Before joining Stony Brook for graduate school, I worked in Kenya for three years and gained amazing field experience. I have broad interests in early hominin evolution and paleoecology. My research is about dietary evolution in Plio-Pleistocene pig lineages.