The area where the Turkana Basin stands today has a long history of tectonic activity and notably of rifting. This is at the heart of its standing as an extraordinary repository of fossil sites that stretch from the time of the dinosaurs to modern humans. Tectonic faulting cracks, uplifts and tilts the beds of fossiliferous sediments, so that the older layers, buried far beneath the present day surface, are exposed again. And periodic volcanic eruptions leave convenient layers of ash called tuffs in between the fossil layers, which can be readily and accurately dated.
The modern day lake basin has been characterized by the permanent presence of either a lake or a large river for the past 7 million years, allowing a continual process of sedimentation that provides ideal conditions for burial, fossilization and subsequent exposure through erosion. Since this period covers the entire evolution of the human race, a more perfect field laboratory for the study of human origins could not be found. Forty years of continuous research have unearthed numerous wondrous and unexpected discoveries, with the potential for many more.
Timeline of research