A short story of groundbreaking discoveries in Turkana Lake Basin

24/08/2014

While our 3D wizards are busy scanning in the TBI camp, we’d like to say a bit about the place they are based in – the Turkana Basin, and how this special place has revolutionized our ideas of the last 4.2 million years of human evolution.

The story goes back to Ethiopia, the southern part of the Lake Turkana, where Louise’s grandparents, Louis and Mary Leakey, were searching for fossils. No one believed they would find the prehistoric remains of primitive people. They were repeatedly told their efforts were pointless. However, in virtually impossible working conditions and with no modern technology, they made a series of sensational paleoanthropological discoveries, confirming the hypothesis that Africa was indeed the cradle of humankind.

Later, Richard Leakey shifted the excavations from Ethiopia to Northern Kenya, closer to the Sibiloi National Park. It harbors unique prehistoric and archaeological sites, some of which are linked to the origin of man. In the 1960s and 70s more than 160 fossilized remains of early man were discovered, including Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus, putting man’s origins 3 million years earlier than previously thought.

Sibiloi National Park is part of the Turkana Basin, home to beautiful fauna and rich in history.

The Koobi Fora region is considered one of Africa’s main sites for prehistoric fossils. In 1972, Bernard Ngeneo, a member of a team led by anthropologist Richard Leakey and paleontologist/zoologist Meave Leakey, found the famous Homo Rudolfensis fossilized skull (also Australopithecus Rudolfensis). Better known by the number 1470, at the time it was thought to be possibly the first of the Homo genus.

Lake Turkana (formerly known as Lake Rudolf) is in the center of the basin. Around 2 to 3 million years ago, the lake was larger and the area more fertile, making it a focal point for early hominids. The greatest finding of the area is Turkana Boy. An almost complete skeleton (a real rarity for fossils) of a 1.5 million year old Homo Erectus, the Boy was discovered in 1984 by Kamoya Kimeu, probably the world's most successful fossil collector. Kimeu began to work as a laborer for Louis and Mary Leakey in the 1950s. Together with Meave and Richard Leakey he is responsible for several of the most significant paleoanthropological discoveries.

Richard Leakey’s desire was to enable all-year-round research in this remote region. This is how the concept of the Turkana Basin Institute developed and earned the support of Stony Brook University. Thanks to Richard’s efforts and the private funding he secured, the first TBI center (http://www.turkanabasin.org/) opened in 2007. Today the TBI is a collaborative international enterprise that seeks to facilitate fieldwork within the Basin by providing researches with logistical support and safeguarding the extensive fossil deposits in the region through engagement with local communities.

The TBI main camp

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