We left TBI Turkwel Monday morning for our camping trip, from which we would be returning on Wednesday afternoon. We would be camping for two nights near the village of Nariokotome; the famous hominin site of Nariokotome boy, KNM-WT 15000, is only a few minutes away! On our drive to Nariokotome, we would be making two stops: first, at the Kalokol Namoratunga pillar site, and second, at Lomekwi 3!
The Kalokol Namoratunga site is one of several megalith sites in the Turkana Basin. There are many large, pillar-shaped rocks standing upright in a cluster. Though the exact purpose or construction mechanism is unknown, there is a local myth concerning the many Namoratunga sites in the Turkana Basin. According to the myth, many many years ago, a group of people were singing around a campfire. The devil appeared and wanted to sing with them, but told them they had better not laugh at his voice. When he began to sing, they couldn’t help but laugh, some doubled over or leaning back they were laughing so hard. Filled with anger, the devil turned them all to stone just as they were, and this is why some stones are straight up while others are leaning over.
Unfortunately, this site has been severely damaged over the past several years—people have come in the middle of the night and dug up stones, looking for precious minerals or treasures underneath them, or thinking the stones themselves may be valuable (they actually have little direct monetary value, as they are large basalt pillars).
Our next stop was at the Lomekwi 3 site, the oldest stone tool site in the world! Because this is still an active excavation, Dr. Professor Harmand had us walk very carefully and follow her path exactly so as to not disturb anything. At the site, she explained their excavation progress and findings, and the direction they will take in further excavations. Additionally, we visited the hill her discovery team had climbed the day they first decided to survey this area.
In this area, there are still several Lomekwian tools on the surface that have eroded out from layers of sediment. Though it was amazing seeing the Lomekwian tools in the lab, there is a distinct feeling of awe and veneration when seeing the oldest stone tools in the exact area they were left 3.3 million years ago, where some hominin (there is still an active debate as to which hominins may have made and used the Lomekwian tools) made and used each tool, at this very place. It is a truly humbling thought, to imagine how far our technologies have come and to see firsthand, where they began.
We arrived at camp right before five, with plenty of sunlight left to set up our tents and go to the nearby well, where we would be getting water to drink and shower for the next few days. When we were finished setting up camp, Dr. Professor Harmand introduced us to Sammy Lokorodi, a local from Nariokotome who works on her team. In fact, Sammy was the first to find a Lomekwian tool that fateful day they were first surveying the area! Sammy was kind enough to explain, from his perspective, the discovery of the Lomekwian industry.
That night, we were greeted by a gorgeous full moon (in fact, it was both a blood and supermoon, adequately named given its color and enormous size).
We spent the majority of the next day visiting several of the different sites at Kokiselei. However, prior to our drive there, we stopped by the site of Nariokotome boy! Francis, a TBI field assistant, is from the village of Nariokotome and was actually present back in 1984 when the fossil was first discovered! While at the site, he recounted his experience that day and told us more about the discovery.
Before the team’s discovery of the Lomekwian industry, Dr. Professor Harmand and her team conducted several excavations at the sites of Kokiselei, where they discovered the oldest Acheulean tools at Kokiselei 4, dated at 1.76 million years. Though we would be visiting Kokiselei 4, we would also see several of the other sites that her team worked on in this area.
We first stopped at Kokiselei 1, a younger Oldowan site dated around 1.8 million years. This site is characterized by a very high spatial density of artefacts, so the students spent about half an hour flagging as many artefacts as they could, again, discussing any confusing or interesting tools they found.
At Kokiselei 4, Dr. Professor Harmand explained that because this is the oldest Acheulean site, the tools are not quite as well made as are some of the later Acheulean specimen. After further discussing this site, the students spread out to find some of their own Acheulean tools!
After lunch, we collected raw materials for the knapping activity the students would be doing on Thursday. Students needed to collect a basalt hammerstone, and cores of both phonolite and rhyolite (raw materials that tend to be good for flaking and shaping). There are a few guidelines that can help when selecting raw material: hammerstones should be well rounded; cores should have good natural angles (acute angles allow for natural striking platforms), be fine-grained, and be able to be held in one hand. As the students soon realized, selecting quality raw materials is not as easy as just picking up rocks! Having to select their own raw materials really made the students think about the cognition of tool-making hominins: selecting appropriate raw material is just as necessary as being able to make a flake!
That evening, we visited Nariokotome village. Some of the students played football with the locals while other students played with the local kids! It is always amazing to see how joy can so easily be spread across language and culture. Happiness was written all over the students’ faces on their walk back to camp.