Geological History of the Turkana Basin

August 2-6, 2011
TBI-Turkwel, Kenya


The tenth annual Stony Brook Human Evolution Workshop was held at TBI’s Turkwel research facility, Augusts 2-6, 2011. Entitled “Geological History of the Turkana Basin,” this workshop covered topics such as plate tectonic setting of the Turkana Basin, relation of the Turkana Depression to the Ethiopian Rift and Kenya Rift, timing of major faulting, sedimentary sequences, dating of volcanic sequences, volcanic rocks and volcanic history, geochemistry of ancient lakes, and geology and its relation to paleontology.

To understand the Turkana Basin and its place in mammalian evolution, the geological record must be examined for context within which the major evolutionary events took place. Geological exploration of the Turkana Basin began in the 1930’s and accelerated greatly after World War II. Palaeontological research in the Turkana Basin began in the mid 1960’s and active research programs in Geology and in Palaeontology have continued every since. With the completion of construction of the Turkana Basin Institute facility at Turkwel, on the west side of Lake Turkana and the development of a permanent facility at Ileret, on the east side, with construction of a complete facility about to begin there, TBI wished to bring together a wide variety of researchers to discuss major themes and knowledge concerning the geological history of the Turkana Basin. Experience with the past nine workshops has led to the exchange of knowledge and ideas, and the discussion of priorities for future research has been tremendously rewarding for all participants and has led to improved understanding and to new collaborations.

The following topics were covered:

Regional structural background

  • Plate tectonic setting of the Turkana Basin
  • Relation of the Turkana Depression to the Ethiopian Rift and Kenya Rift
  • Timing of major faulting
  • Deep structure (crustal thickness, etc.)

Sedimentary Sequences

  • Cretaceous (proven only at Lokitaung gorge; Sera Iltomia, Tiati grits without proof)
  • Eocene to Miocene formations
  • Pliocene to Holocene formations


  • Basement chronology
  • Thermochronology of uplift
  • Dating of volcanic sequences

Volcanic Rocks/Volcanic history

  • “Missing” centers (origin of syenite boulders at Lothidok, Kokiselei; mafic centers with biotite, pyroxene, kaersutite megacrysts recorded at Kalodirr)

Geochemistry of Ancient Lakes

Relation to Paleontology


Scientists attending the workshop represented a multidisciplinary group of international scholars with specialized research interests and strong working ties to research in the Turkana Basin.

  • Tesfaye Kidane Birke, Munich University
  • Frank Brown, University of Utah
  • Thure Cerling, University of Utah
  • Peter deMenocal, Columbia University
  • Craig Feibel, Rutgers University
  • Patrick Gathogo, Schlumberger/TerraTek
  • Andy Gleadow, University of Melbourne
  • Bereket Haileab, Carleton College
  • Tom Johnson, University of Minnesota, Duluth
  • Meave Leakey, Stony Brook University/TBI
  • Richard Leakey, Stony Brook University/TBI
  • Christopher Lepre, Columbia University/Rutgers University
  • Naomi Levin, Johns Hopkins University
  • Lawrence Martin, Stony Brook University/TBI
  • Ian McDougall, Australian National University
  • Chris Morley, PTT Exploration and Production
  • Raphael Pik, Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques
  • Troy Rasbury, Stony Brook University
  • Joe Sertich, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
  • Manfred Strecker, University of Potsdam
  • Hubert Vonhof, Free University of Amsterdam
  • Ron Watkins, Curtin University