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
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
Three people were killed in an attack at Lorogon, Turkana South sub-County.
While speaking to press, Turkana County Governor, Josphat Nanok condoled with the families that lost their loved ones in the ambush. He added that he was saddened by the killings.
He however blamed the security team for the deaths of the three children: “It is disappointing that the security situation is deteriorating. We have lost three children who had a bright future. I blame the security team for not arriving early to help the three who bled to death,” said the Governor.
The Governor said that the security department should in future act swiftly to curb such deaths.
Turkana South sub-County Commissioner, Elijah Kodoh, confirmed that the people were shot as they went to the river to fetch water.
“The people left very early in the morning to fetch water from the river. As they headed there, they were ambushed and shot at by bandits,” said Mr. Kodoh.
He noted that he had talked to the Anti-Stock Theft Unit in Kainuk to help their colleagues in Lorogon.
However, according to a local resident, James Kisike, some people could not be accounted for: “We found two bodies. Two of those who were injured were found. We have not been able to get other bodies,” said Kisike.
The injured were treated at the Kainuk Dispensary.
Turkana South MP, James Lomenen condemned the attack and appealed to the national government to provide security along the volatile Pokot-Turkana border.
“We are tired of losing people to bullets each passing day. The pain we feel is unbearable. The national government should sort out this problem once and for all,” said Mr. Lomenen.
Posted in: KenyaLorogonNewsTurkanaTurkana South
LODWAR, TURKANA CENTRAL
Tension was high at a college in Lodwar town following the arrest of a man suspected of having links with the Al-Shabaab terror gang.
Moses Cheruiyot, the County Criminal Investigation Officer said the suspect identified as Evans (Osman) Kipkosgei Chemelei was arrested following a tip from a citizen.
Cheruiyot said that the citizen overheard the suspect as he spoke to a Muslim student near the institution.
“The suspect was said to have been speaking to a student near KMTC. He is reported to have asked about the number of Muslims in the school. Apparently he wanted the information as they were organizing some funds for the Ramadhan period. Somebody overheard the two speaking and was suspicious of the motive.
He reported the matter to our officers at Lodwar Police station,” said Mr. Cheruiyot.
He added that the lady who had talked to County Criminal Investigation Officer the suspect gave out his phone number and was later called in for questioning.
Andrew Omanga, the Deputy Administrator of Kenya Medical Training College in Lodwar, said he heard the matter and was forced to call back the student who had talked to the suspect.
“I called the girl who had talked to the suspect. She told me that the suspect had asked her about the number of Muslims in the school. I quickly rushed to college where I booked in the incident in the occurrence book because I saw it as a security threat,” said the administrator.
The Principal at KMTC, Mrs. Rachel Lomechu said that she was alerted on the issue by the administrator.
She quickly came to school to calm the situation as the students were scared and were not ready to spend the night there.
She added that she called the County AP Commander who sent four policemen to patrol the school.
“I was alerted at 7.30pm about the incident. I quickly rushed to school where I found a few students. The rest had panicked and had left the school to go and spend the night in town. I talked to them and assured them that they will be safe,” said the Principal.
The suspect according to Mr. Cheruiyot hails from Koisagat Village in Trans Nzoia County. He was born on 29th December, 1979. He is married and has three children. However, he is not registered as a Kenyan Citizen.
According to the suspect, he cannot register as a citizen until when he can be allowed to register as Osman. “The man claimed that when he was about to register for his ID, the registrar refused to register him as Osman as his birth certificate read Evans. He has vowed not to register until when he is allowed to register as Osman,” said The County Criminal Investigation Officer.
According to Mr. Cheruiyot the suspect was arrested and after interrogation, he was charged under no registration, as terrorism activities were not clear.
“Charges on terrorism were not clear and that is why we had to charge him with lacking proper registration. We are still conducting further investigations,” said Mr. Cheruiyot.
He has called on all people to be vigilant and to report suspicious persons to the authority.
Posted in: News