Students take five sequential two-week course modules that provide 15 credits of 300-level coursework in Archaeology, Paleontology, Physical Anthropology and Geology. All coursework is taught in English by leaders in each field.
The course modules offered are:
Geology of the Turkana Basin
This module introduces the current perspectives on the origins and evolution of the Turkana Basin, Kenya. Students learn how to apply fundamental geological concepts to the sediments and rock units to provide a foundation for the chronology and context for recorded events in human evolution. Emphasis is given to sedimentation, stratigraphy, volcanism, and tectonics, as they apply to local geology, including training in field methods. Modern terrestrial processes and landscape evolution are examined using features present in the Turkana Basin. Consideration is also given to broader geologic events spanning the Oligocene to the present. Geologic concepts are linked to modern and ancient environments, archaeology, and paleoanthropology in northern Kenya. It is a field-based course involving visits to important geological and fossil sites. Graded work includes fieldwork assignments, quizzes, and a final exam.
Ecology of the Turkana Basin
This module introduces students to the fundamental principles and techniques of basic field ecology in the context of the modern East African Lake Turkana environment. The course includes a mixture of fieldwork, lectures, seminars and readings. Students will identify common invasive and endemic plant species near the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) at Turkwel as well as recognizing important evolutionary and ecological patterns and issues. Fieldwork will focus on plants and insects and generate useful baseline data for longer term studies. Students will be introduced to basic ecological monitoring methods for plant and insect communities (incl. transects, quadrants and live capture), and will gain an understanding of community dynamics and restoration ecology. Insect fieldwork will focus on survival in drylands and is linked to topics such as mutualism and phenology. We will be looking closely at adaptation to heat and aridity, but students will also be exposed to other habitats including nearby riverine forests and grasslands, as well as the rich freshwater and island systems of Lake Turkana.
The module will be intensive and divided into four broad areas:
- General African Dryland and Grassland Ecology
- Freshwater Ecology and Biodiversity of Lake Turkana
- Life on the edge – coping with heat and drought stress
Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoecology of the Turkana Basin
Vertebrate fossils are important sources of information about the appearance, evolution, and extinction of major organisms. As such, they provide a valuable window onto changes in climate and selection pressures, and organisms’ diverse adaptive responses to these changes. They are also significant in placing hominid discoveries within a relative local chronology, and helping reconstruct environments associated with hominid finds. This course acquaints students with laboratory and field methods of vertebrate paleontology employed in different chronological contexts of the Turkana Basin, used to solve diverse theoretical questions.
Human Evolution in the Turkana Basin
The Turkana Basin is home to many paleoanthropological discoveries that fundamentally reshaped ideas about human evolution. Important finds from the Turkana Basin, including Nariokotome (“Turkana boy”) and KNM-WT 17000 (the “Black Skull”) will be highlighted in lectures and lab activities, and their relevance to the larger picture of human evolution will be explored. Lectures and readings for each discovery will cover:
- the research questions and strategies that led to the find;
- the kinds of analyses that have yielded the most important interpretive conclusions about the find;
- how this discovery reshaped views of the human past; and
- what new directions it catalyzed in human evolution research.
Class activities consist of lectures, laboratory exercises (reconstructions, measurements) using casts of a wide range of primate fossils, and field trips to locations. Students will learn how to classify and identify fossils.
Archaeology of the Turkana Basin
This course familiarizes students with African Stone Age archaeology through class lectures and lab and field exercises. Students learn how archaeologists document the behavioral characteristics of early humans in Africa through the study of material cultural evidence. During field excursions, they learn diverse methods of survey and excavation techniques appropriate for different sites and contexts. Primary areas of discussion throughout the coursework include the question of the cognitive status of early humans implied by their technologies and the evolution of human adaptation from an evolutionary perspective, exploring the relationships between stone tool technology, paleoenvironments, hominin species and cognitive evolution.
Students visit archaeological sites of various ages, some very rich in stone tools and pottery, and learn how to make and use stone tools.