One day in Lothagam

We have had a couple of rains in the last few days at TBI Turkwel and were a bit worried about our field trip to Lothagam, a fossil/archeological site ~40 kilometers (25 miles) to the southeast of TBI Turkwel. It sounds close but, we can not drive fast on muddy roads. The trip turned out to be a two-hour drive by the time we arrived.

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Arriving at Lothagam

Lothagam is known for its paleontology fauna of the late Miocene period, about 5.5 to 8 million years ago. Thousands of fossil specimens have been uncovered in the last four decades. It is also known for a Holocene pillar site where large stone circles, pillars, burials and artifacts have been found. However, we never expected that this place could be so alien! Reddish terrain dotted with black volcanic rocks, shaped by geologic processes. Iron-rich sediments have been chiseled away, leaving winding gullies and canyons. Looking at the Martian landscapes of Lothagam, we felt as if we were standing on the surface of another planet. Only the blue sky, white clouds and a few green pioneering plants could give away our tie to mother Earth. Walking through the gullies, we found fossil bones and oyster shells, preserved and revealing the power of nature itself. For thousands to milliions of years, the land we walked on was submerged by lake water and replaced by several river systems, and now, the sediments have been brought up by tectonic activities. A few million years, long enough to bear such dramatic changes, is only a blink in the geological history.

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The red sediments of Lothagam

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Walking on sandstone and going through gullies

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Iron-rich sandstone carved out by water and wind

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Walking close together

Our first destination was the Holocene Pillar site, where people lived and built stone monuments a few thousand years ago. It was almost surprising to see remnants of human activities, given that the place is almost barren. But the lake level was much higher by then so people who built those structures might have lived close to the shores. As we walked around, we found quite a few artifacts scattered on the surface. There were obsidian blades and pottery. Bone harpoons have also been found in the surrounding areas, indicating that the people there were probably fishing in the lake.

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Arriving at the Pillar Site

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Stone circles and pillars

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Dr. Harmand points at a broken pillar

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Kennedy summarizes his studies on the pillar site

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Large stone pillars on the ground

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Meredith, Meg and Laura search around the Pillar Site

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A shard of Pottery with surface decoration

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Pillar Site with the Lothagam mountains in the back

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Aero photograph of the Pillar Site, 2012 (image courtesy of Dr. Louise Leakey)

Our second destination was further south in the Lothagam region. The Lothagam deposits extend so far from north to south that it took us almost one hour to drive from the Pillar Site to the south end. Our mission was to survey the area and look for archaeological sites. We first found a small shelter for a picnic lunch. Can’t go far without food! Then we spread out to survey. It was no easy task to walk around the sediments with both high temperature and humidity! But we were all very excited to see a new archaeological site identified by Dr. Harmand. The site is just freshly eroded out from the sediments and there were stone tools and bones almost everywhere. Absolutely amazing! Students used flags to mark where they found artifacts and bones but we ran out of flags very quickly! Even Dr. Harmand was impressed by the richness of the site. Great success for the TBI Origins Field School! Take a look at our work at the new archaeological site at Lothagam.

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Boyu getting a refill from Abel

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Should we call ourselves “the cave people”?

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Dr. Harmand explains what she found at the new site

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Students flagging artifacts (blue) and bones (orange)

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Jeanette and Meredith are flagging while Francis (back left) and Dr. Harmand are supervising

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Abel and Brian flagging together

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Taylor found a flake!

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“What does it look like?”

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Dr. Harmand gives a summary of what we have found so far

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One of the stone blades that we found

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So many flages in one area!

The next stop for the Field School is Lomekwi where the earliest known stone tools have been found. Stay tuned for more!

By | 2017-01-04T18:04:38+00:00 November 18th, 2015|Fall Field School 2015, Field School|Comments Off on One day in Lothagam

About the Author:

Hello! My name is Deming Yang. I am the TA for Spring 2017 Origins Field School. I am a PhD student in the IDPAS program at Stony Brook University and a TBI graduate fellow. Before joining Stony Brook for graduate school, I worked as an intern 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.