The Nariokotome camping trip

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In the last week of the Archaeology module, we had a lot of adventures visiting various archaeological sites on the west side of Lake Turkana. Dr. Sonia Harmand from Stony Brook University led the expedition. Dr. Harmand has been working in the Turkana Basin for almost two decades. Her expertise in this region provided exceptional learning opportunities for the Origins Field School students.

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Dr. Harmand at Kokiselei archaeological site

We started our first day of adventures with a long drive to Nariokotome, where the “Turkana Boy” Homo erectus skeleton was found. The Turkana boy skeleton is one of the most complete associated skeleton for our ancestor Homo erectus who first made it out of Africa. To recognize the significance of the discovery, a monument was completed last year at the site where the bones were discovered. Nariokotome has been the destination for previous Field School camping trips for another reason. The camping area is very close to a community well where we had access to drinking water. It makes such a difference logistically that we did not have to bring water with us during the trip. The Nariokotome Laga (dried river bed) is also very well shaded with giant Acacia trees and tooth brush trees, which is ideal for camping!

On our way north to Nariokotome, we first stopped at a stone pillar site similar to what we have seen in Lothagam. The name of the site is Namoratunga. The age of the site is between 5000-4000 years before present, the same as the Lothagam site. However, the patterns in which the pillars were built are different from the Lothagam one. Students learned about the interpretations of different pillar sites in Kenya and their cultural significance. Interestingly, local Turkanas have a myth about the pillar sites. They say that the pillars were once men but turned into stones! I guess I will leave it to you to judge!

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Origins Field School at the Namoratunga pillar site

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Kennedy explains what the pillar site is about

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Large stone pillars at Namoratunga

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Picnic lunch on our way

We arrived at Nariokotome in the late afternoon after a long drive from Namoratunga. Our first stop was the Nariokotome Homo erectus monument, where the Spring 2015 Origins Field School visited for the first time. There are three marble slabs in front of the monument with the discovery of “Turkana Boy” written in three languages: English, Swahili and local Turkana language. The skeleton was discovered in 1984 by Kamoya Kimeu, a renowned fossil hunter working with Dr. Richard Leakey. Our TBI field assistant Francis Ekai witnessed the discovery as a young boy! At the back of the monument where the bones of Turkana Boy was eroding out from the hill, Francis told us about what he saw and how he was inspired to do field work in the Turkana Basin.

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The Nariokotome Monument

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Stone slabs in three languages

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Francis Ekai (right) explains his connection with the Nariokotome discovery

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The “Turkana Boy” is as tall as Laura!

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Group photo at the Nariokotome Monument

On the second day of our adventure, we headed to Kokiselei where the earliest known Acheulean stone tools have been found. Traditionally, the Early Stone Age can be divided into two stone tool industries: the Oldowan (old one!) and Acheulean. They are characterized by different ways of making tools. Now with the earliest Lomekwian industry added into the picture, we have three industries in the Early Stone Age, which I will talk about in a little bit. In the Kokiselei area, there is a lot to offer! Both Oldowan and Acheulean sites are present. How did stone tool industry transition from Oldowan to Acheulean? More work needs to be done! At the sites, we prospected for stone artifacts and bones and did a lot of practice flagging.

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Students arrived at a Kokiselei Oldowan site

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Identifying small flakes at the site

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Abel and Mattia working together

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Pamela and Laura exchanging ideas

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Kennedy and Boyu found some fossil bones

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Someone else in the bush is watching!

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Dr. Harmand showing an Acheulean handaxe

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Brian looks at its bilateral symmetry

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Flagging at an Acheulean site at Kokiselei

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Meredith and Jeanette listening to Dr. Harmand

I believe a lot of people love to keep the best things to see the last. And that was exactly what we did on the last day of our camping trip! We were honored to visit the Lomekwi 3 site where the earliest known stone tools have been found. Dr. Harmand and her colleagues published the discovery earlier this year. So we were the first Field School students to visit the archaeological site! Seeing and holding some of the earliest stone artifacts produced 3.3 million years ago was really exciting! Dr. Harmand also explained how the stone tools were discovered during the survey. Take a look at some of the first pictures of the site after the announcement!

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Field School arrives at Lomekwi 3

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Kennedy is picking up a stone tool from the ground

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Pamela, Kennedy and Dr. Harmand look at one of the earliest stone tools

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Kennedy and Dr. Harmand demonstrating bipolar percussion, one of the most common techniques used at Lomekwi 3

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Students standing at the exact place where the Lomekwian stone tools were first surveyed

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“I wish I could find a Lomekwian tool”

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Stratigraphic landscapes around Lomekwi 3

Any night in the Turkana Basin could be quite different from another! And indeed we ran into something totally unexpected! After our visit at Lomekwi, we were ready to go back to TBI Turkwel. However, on our way back, we found that the Kalokol Laga was flowing! There was not a single drop of rain at Kalokol but it rained in the distant mountains! The water was too high for our mighty field school truck to cross. Such an incident can happen anytime in a dry area like the Turkana Basin. So we have decided to cross the river on foot and meet up with TBI vehicles from Turkwel camp. The current was quite strong but we managed to cross hand in hand. Another adventure in one of the wildest parts of Africa!

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Group photo after crossing the Kalokol Laga

By | 2017-01-04T18:04:38+00:00 November 21st, 2015|Fall Field School 2015, Field School|Comments Off on The Nariokotome camping trip

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.