By Gregory Akall and Caleb Atemi
The rocks of Turkana have told many tales, some dating millions of years thus cementing the regions claim to be the cradle of mankind.
Another rock, another tale and today Turkana’s pride as the original home of our foremost forefathers has stretched back in time by more than 700,000 years. An early morning walk by two archeologists and their team of stone-tool hunters on July 9 2011, pushed back the beginning of archaeological record by more than half a million years.
Drs. Sonia Harmand and Jason Lewis were climbing a remote hill near the western shore of Lake Turkana, leading them to the oldest stone artifacts that have dramatically shaken archaeological knowledge.
An hour earlier, the duo and their team had accidently taken the wrong path through a dry riverbed. Anxious but alert, they began navigating their way back to the main channel. Their sixth sense told them that there was something special about this wrong path. They could almost smell the Eureka moment! Paralyzed by curiosity, they decided to spend some time fanning and surveying the patch of craggy outcrops. After one hour of scooping and scratching, they decided it was time to take a tea break. Lo and behold, a local Turkana tribesman Sammy Lokorodi from Nariokotome pointed to them the spot they had travelled thousands of kilometers in searching of.
They had stumbled upon the earliest stone artifacts dating 3.3 million years ago. The discovery of the site named Lomekwi 3 suddenly pushed back the beginning of archaeological record by seven millennia.
Dr. Harmand with Stony Brook University’s Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) and the CNRS in France and Lewis of TBI are co-directors of the West Turkana Archaeological Project team. They could barely hide their joy.
In the 1930s, paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey unearthed early stone artifacts at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, and named them the Oldowan tool culture. In the 1960s, they found hominin fossils that they named: Homo habilis or handy man. Since then, conventional wisdom in human evolutionary studies supposed that the origins of knapping stone tools by our ancestors was linked to the emergence of the genus Homo. The premise was that our lineage alone took the cognitive leap of hitting stones together to strike off sharp flakes to use for cutting and digging, then an evolutionary success.
Over the last few decades, however, as subsequent discoveries pushed back the date for the earliest stone tools to 2.6 million and the earliest fossils attributable to early Homo to only 2.4-2.3 million years. A series of papers published in rapid succession in early 2015 have solidified these ideas into an emerging paradigm shift in paleoanthropology: the fossil record of the genus Homo now extends back to 2.8 Ma in the Ethiopian Afar; cranial and post-cranial diversity in early Homo is much wider than previously thought.
Australopithecus africanus and other Pleistocene hominins, traditionally considered not to have made stone tools, have a human-like trabecular bone pattern in their hand bones consistent with tool use.
The Lomekwi artifacts have confirmed that one group of ancient hominin started knapping stones to make tools long before previously thought. These new archaeological finds have given the Lake Turkana basin yet more fame pilling on the work of the second and third generation of the Leakey family: Richard, Meave and their daughter Louise, and has produced much of the world’s most important fossil evidence for human evolution. The Lomekwi area had already produced the fossil skull of early hominin Kenyanthropus platyops by Meave and her team.
“These oldest tools from Lomekwi shed light on an unexpected and previously unknown period of hominin behavior and can tell us a lot about cognitive development in our ancestors that we can’t understand from fossils alone” said Dr. Harmand, the lead author of the paper published in the journal Nature announcing the discovery. “Our finding finally disproves the long-standing assumption that Homo habilis was the first tool maker,” she added.
The Harmand team found that these tools are unique compared to the ones known from after 2.6 million years. “The stones are much larger than Oldowan tools, and we can see from the scars left on the stones when they were being made that the techniques used were more rudimentary, requiring holding the stone in two hands or resting the stone on an anvil when hitting it with a hammer stone. The gestures involved are reminiscent of those used by chimpanzees when they use stones to break open nuts” said Dr. Harmand. Their study of the Lomekwi artifacts suggests a transitional technological stage between the pounding-oriented stone tool use of a more ancestral hominin and the flaking-oriented knapping behavior of later, Oldowan toolmakers.
The team was also surprised to find that reconstructions of the environment around Lomekwi at 3.3 million years ago, from the associated animal fossils and isotopic analyses of the site’s soil, indicate the area was much more wooded than paleoenvironments associated with later East African artifact sites from after 2.6 million years. “The Lomekwi hominins were most likely not out on a savanna when they knapped these tools,” said Dr. Lewis.
While it is tempting to assume that these earliest artifacts were made by members of our genus Homo, the team urged caution. “Is it extremely rare to be able to pinpoint what fossil species made which stone tools through most of prehistory, unless there was only one hominin species living at the time, or until we find a fossil skeleton still holding a stone tool in its hand,” said Dr. Lewis.
The Lomekwi 3 discovery raises many new challenging questions for paleoanthropologists. What could have caused hominins to start knapping tools at such an early date? “The traditional view was that hominins started knapping to make sharp-edged flakes so they could cut meat off of animal carcasses, and maybe used the cores to break open bones to get at the marrow” Lewis says. “While the Lomekwi knappers certainly created cores and sharp-edged flakes, their size and the battering marks on their surfaces suggest they were doing something different as well, especially if they were in a more wooded environment with access to various plant resources.”
Drs. Harmand and Lewis are helping lead on going experimental work to help reconstruct how the tools were used.
Another unknown is what’s happening archaeologically between 3.3 and 2.6 Ma. “We’ve jumped so far ahead with this discovery, we need to try to connect the dots back to what we know is happening in the early Oldowan,” Harmand said.
The two will continue using their skills and knowledge to talk to the stones of Turkana, which have produced not just fossils of ancestors, but plenty of oil, water and minerals to take care of future generations.
Gregory Akall is a Doctoral Researcher at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK and Caleb Atemi is a communication consultant and a media trainer.
Posted in: DevelopmentGeneralKenyaNews
LODWAR, TURKANA CENTRAL
The Turkana County Governor Josphat Nanok says he is tired of the helplessness that his people have sunk to in regards to insecurity. He says that the recent slaughter of 60 men, women and children in the Nadome left him paralysed.
The governor is appalled by the unacceptable laxity with which the national government is handling insecurity and conflict issues in Turkana, West Pokot and Baringo counties.
“I am still in shock and utter disbelief of the massacre that has left more than 60 people dead in Nadome in Turkana. I want to condemn in the strongest terms possible the massacre and at the same time send my condolences to the bereaved families,” said the governor.
Mr. Nanok added: “I am one Governor who has been shouting the loudest on the issue of insecurity but my plea has always fallen on deaf ears. It’s quite unfortunate that the government has had to wait until a massacre of this magnitude happened, to act.”
According to the Governor since the massacre happened, he has never said a single word to Kenyans adding that he was still wondering how my words can help.
“I have uttered many words on the killing of my people all in vain. I am ignored by the national government, which is in charge of security. I still believe that if this government listened to my pleas and the community’s cry, lives even those of children and women would not have been lost,” says Nanok.
The governor pointed out that he has previously and continuously through key players like the church tried to reach out to the neighbours both in West Pokot and Baringo, but his efforts have been futile. His neighbours, he says are not ready for peace.
The attacks on Turkana have since intensified and now they have culminated into a massacre. He appeals to all leaders from various pastoralist communities to offer constructive leadership to their people: “I urge them to speak to their communities to embrace peace because this is the only way the pastoral communities can benefit fully from devolution,” he said.
Posted in: NewsTurkana Central
By Melisa Maimuna
An 8 million shillings grant by the Japanese Government has placed a smile on the faces of girls studying at St. Bakita Nagis Primary School.
Many of these girls have endured long, dangerous walks to the school along routes infested with wild animals and male attackers.
The Japanese Ambassador to Kenya Tatsushi Terada told a groundbreaking ceremony that the project was selected out of more than 440 applications, received in 2014. The competitive grant named Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Project (GGP) is expected to create conducive learning environment for the pupils in order to enable them improve academic performance.
“I understand pupils walk for long distance to school and are under risk of being attacked by wild animals and female pupils sometimes face threats of being harassed by ill- intentioned men. The meaning of our assistance is more than just improving their learning environment; it assists to prevent them from danger,” he said.
The project received a grant amounting to USD 88,361 (approximately ksh 8m) for construction of two classrooms, two dormitories, two toilet blocks for pupils and one block for teachers with the aim of improving the schools educational environment from Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Project (GGP), this was the first project in Turkana since 2008.
Governor Josphat Nanok thanked the Government of Japan for a rare gift:
The best and most lasting gift for a Turkana child remains education because any hand out will soon get over and they will be back knocking your door for assistance. On behalf of Turkana people I really appreciate the government of Japan for their helping hand.
The ambassador urged teachers to put more effort in protecting the pupils and give them full support to help develop their own abilities and talents to ensure bright future.
Posted in: KenyaLoimaTurkana
LOKICHAR, TURKANA SOUTH
Turkana South MP James Lomenen has condemned the attack at Nadome, Turkana East that claimed over 60 lives.
Lomenen stated that he was saddened by the continued killings of the people along the volatile Turkana-Pokot border.
He noted that it was unfair that people are killed yet the security personnel do nothing to save them.
“It is unfortunate that we keep losing our people each passing day. There has been a lot of raids and banditry along the borders but our security personnel are never ready to act. Some have even confessed that they are scared of dying and that is why some do not come out when there is a raid,” said Lomenen.
Lomenen said that he was aware that there was a raid at Nakukulas and that the clash at Nadome was a retaliatory attack. “It is true that there was a raid at Nakukulas, Turkana East. The people at Nakukulas were not happy because they had lost many animals to the raiders. They followed them to Nadome where the clash happened,” said the legislature.
He added that he was not sure of the number of people killed because he had not received any confirmation from an authoritative body.
“Currently, we do not know who was killed, whether Turkanas, Pokots or Samburus. We are not even sure about their numbers as no government agency or authoritative body has confirmed for us,” said the MP.
He noted that the reason for the delay to reach the site could be because of insecurity, the impassable terrains, wild animals and poor mobile network signal because of the Suguta Valley.
He has urged the government to ensure that the people at that region get the help they require.
“These people need help as we speak. The government should move in as fast as possible to help those who were hurt in the process,” said the MP.
The legislator also called on leaders from the region to embrace dialogue to resolve conflict and bring peace to the warring communities.
“All leaders from Turkana, Pokot and Samburu should come together and dialogue on how to bring peace to the communities. I have hurt and still hurt a lot when I loose people to raiders and bandits. I am sure the leaders in Pokot, Turkana and Samburu feel the same when they loose their people. We should sit down and ensure we bring peace to our people like what the Turkana’s did with the Matheniko of Uganda. They are now living peacefully,” said Lomenen.
Posted in: KenyaLokicharTurkanaTurkana South
NAKWAMORU, TURKANA SOUTH
A General Service Unit officer was injured following an attempted raid at Nakwamoru, Turkana South sub-County.
Turkana County Police Commander Karisa Mwaringa said that armed raiders shot the officer in the palm.
He stated that the officer was shot while protecting the locals.
“The officer was shot in the right hand palm as he protected the people who had been attacked by about 30 suspected raiders,” said the Commander.
He added that there was an exchange of fire between the police and the raiders, which led to the injury.
Karisa said that the officer was treated at Kainuk dispensary.
“The officer was taken to Kainuk dispensary but was later referred to Kapenguria where he is receiving treatment. He is in good shape,” said the police commander.
Turkana South MP James Lomenen condemned the incident terming it as unfortunate and painful.
“It is sad that we keep losing people to raiders. All leaders from the warring communities should sit down and find a lasting solution to the insecurity menace,” said Lomenen.
Posted in: KenyaNakawamoruNewsTurkanaTurkana South