TBI is a research institution supporting scientific projects in the Turkana Basin, Kenya.

Path to modern humans

Archaeological, paleontological, and genetic evidence strongly suggests that eastern Africa played a central role in the evolution of modern humans, Homo sapiens, for the period from 300,000 years ago to the present. Indeed, the earliest anatomically modern human from anywhere in the world comes from the Turkana Basin and was unearthed in 1967 by Richard Leakey’s team in the Omo Valley, in southern Ethiopia. Yet in spite of the relative abundance of fossil sites in the Turkana Basin dating to the past 200,000 years, the period during which modern people evolved and then spread throughout the world, deplorably little is known about this fascinating and critical time in human history. The quest is now on to fill this dearth of information and several teams are currently working with TBI to thoroughly explore many of these important sites.

The In Africa Project, led by Marta Lahr and Rob Foley, has begun exploration of late Pleistocene sites (from 200,000 to 10,000 years ago) on the west side of Lake Turkana.

A Late Pleistocene cranium of a young Homo sapiens.

A Late Pleistocene cranium of a young Homo sapiens discovered by the In Africa project. The face is still encased in a thin covering of rock.

Meanwhile, the Later Prehistory of West Turkana (LPWT) Project is a multidisciplinary group of researchers led by two Stony Brook faculty archaeologists, Elisabeth Hildebrand and John Shea. This project is studying human behavioral change in West Turkana during the Holocene (the past 10,000 years), including fishing-hunting-gathering, early herding, and the development of complex societies around Turkana.

An alumni of TBI’s post-doctoral fellowship program, Dr. Beyin, also focuses his research on the early Holocene epoch, 10,000-7,000 years before the present. With the onset of a globally wet climate during this time period, Turkana became a mega-lake with abundant aquatic resources and lush grasslands for hunters and fishers to utilize. Through his archaeological investigation of western Turkana, Beyin hopes to clarify the role this region played in human survival, the cultural contexts of human lakeshore adaptations in Africa, and the possible connections between the cultures of the Turkana Basin and those of the Sahara and Nile Valley during this time.