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Oldest stone tools confirms Turkana as innovation's home

Oldest stone tool discovered in Lomekwi, Turkana County displayed at the Lodwar Museum.

The discovery of the oldest stone tools in Northwestern Turkana has defined Turkana County as not only the heritage tourism destination and the cradle of mankind but also as the home of innovation.

The Turkana community is elated that the discovery of the stone tools put the county in the global arena once again after the discovery of the Turkana Boy, a nearly complete skeleton of a Homo ergaster of a youth who lived 1.5 to 1.6 million years ago.

The stones were first displayed at the Nairobi National Museum and then at Turkana University College (TUC). The Turkana tools exhibition was imagined by Prof Harmand and Dr Nicholas Taylor and designed by Valentin Sanitas from France.

Mr Erukudi Longolol, 40, a resident of Lodwar Soweto village says they were happy that the stone tools have been returned to Turkana after many years in Nairobi.

“I attended the exhibition at Turkana University College and witnessed a pretty good exhibition of the stone tools. I was very elated to see the stones with my own eyes. We are grateful they were found in our home county,” Mr Longolol said.

Ms Arukudi Nakidor, 36, a resident of Turkana North says her first visit to the exhibition gave her a sense of belonging in believing that the real early human evolution dated many years was discovered in her native home since the stone tools had significant connections to the region.

“Our focus is to see Turkana grow into a region of unique scientific discoveries. We hope the stone tools will transform this region both socially, culturally and economically. I urge all people and especially those in Turkana to visit and see for themselves the stone tools at the museum. They have an amazing history that is important for our history,” Ms Nakidor explained.

Since 1990 after the rebirth of the archaeological project in West Turkana presents a scientific exhibition that in many ways placed the region as a global icon of archaeological discoveries.

In 2011, the archaeological scientists led by Prof Sonia Harmand led a team of Turkana community and international researchers in discovering the oldest archaeological site at Lomekwi 3 in West Turkana.

Josphat Etiir an assistant at the museum explains to tourists the oldest stone tools. Photo: Turkana Guardian

On December 2, 2021, the exhibition was inaugurated in Nairobi National Museum until May 2022 later ferried to Lodwar in Turkana where the major discovery was made.

On June 10, 2022, Turkana University College (TUC) marked the launch of the stone tools at their college library. It was also a day to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the discovery by the WTAP of the World’s oldest stone tools dated 3.3 million years that were discovered at the archaeological site in Lomekwi 3, in west Turkana.

The exhibition highlights the work at nearby sites of Dr Frederick Kyalo Manthi, Director, Antiquities, Sites and Monuments at the NMK and director of the West Turkana Paleo Project. The exhibition “Turkana Tools: the Dawn of Technology” is part of a cooperation project called CONFMAP (Consolidating the Future Through Mastering the Deep Past) funded by the French Government through an FSPI (Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects) grant.

The project is in partnership with the National Museums of Kenya, the Turkana Basin Institute, the Turkana University College, and the French Institute of Research in Africa and is led by Prof. Sonia Harmand, head of the West Turkana Archaeological Project (WTAP).

According to the WTAP team, the objective of the project is to improve the access of marginalised populations (women and Turkana specifically) to higher education and paleosciences, while increasing outreach for Kenya’s prehistoric archaeological heritage.

Oldest stone tools displayed at Lodwar Museum, Turkana County. Photo: Turkana Guardian

Anthropologist Mr. Boniface Korobe explains that the stone tools are Turkana’s archaeological heritage; their discovery puts Turkana in the world atlas as the origin of mankind and therefore an archaeological heritage site for scientific research and a tourist destination.

Even as the stone tools show a strong connection with the Turkana-rich culture, Mr Korobe agreed that the archaeological tools are a story of the evolution of the earliest humans ever to roam the world.

He elaborated that while Turkana culture is about the lifestyle of the Turkana people, which includes technology, in this sense, archaeological stone tools discovered in Turkana, and Turkana artefactual technology have a connection, they are both Turkana archaeological and cultural heritage.

“Offering evolutionary biology course at the Turkana University College accords Turkana professionals the opportunity to participate in archaeological discoveries in Turkana County and contribute to evolution studies around the world,” Mr. Korobe observed.

Mr Korobe further explained that for the Turkana to participate in archaeological research effectively and in a beneficial manner, the County Government of Turkana should play a central role in all engagements that touch on archaeological and paleontological research in Turkana County.

The Anthropologist proposed that the County Government, Turkana Basin Institute (TBI), and research partners establish a Museum at Ekaales Center for the Arts and Cultural Heritage.

The Principal of Turkana University College (TUC) Prof George Chemining'wa said the objective of the Turkana tools exhibition is to raise awareness of the richness and exceptional nature of Kenya's prehistoric heritage.

Prof Chemining’wa noted that the exhibition was an archeological and photographic exhibition celebrating the tenth anniversary of the discovery of the world's oldest stone tools currently known around the globe.

Turkana University College Library hosted the exhibition for three months from June 2022 during, which students, staffs and members of the public participated.

“We have trained eight masters students in human evolutionary biology and two staff in paleoguide. We will work with the County Government's Lodwar Library, where the stone tools will be permanently exhibited, to disseminate the information to the public, Prof Cheminig’wa said.

According to TUC principal, the paleo-guide training is a one-month training whose curriculum was designed by Prof. Sonia Harmand in collaboration with the Turkana Basin Institute, National Museum of Kenya, the Mission Prehistorique au Kenya and supported by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

He said learners were taken through the basic aspects of paleo sciences and hands-on training at the excavation sites.

“Ten employees drawn from Turkana University College, National Museums of Kenya, County Government of Turkana and Turkana Basin Institute have recently graduated in the programme,” he said

Prof Chemining'wa said the Paleo-guide certificate training is the first of its kind in Africa. He added that the graduates of the programme would become champions who will sensitize the people and visitors about Turkana County's rich prehistoric heritage. The program, he says, will enable Kenyans to own and give the story of prehistoric heritage.

“We expect an increase in traffic to the prehistoric excavation sites in Turkana County by locals and foreign tourists. This will bring in revenue to the Turkana community and the Country at large. Together with our partners, we plan to offer the programme annually and increase the intake to 25 students per cohort," Prof Chemingwa said.

He said Turkana County has a clear enormous rich heritage that is in both ways unique and distinctive. This historic and pre-historic heritage needs to be protected and preserved for the public today and in the future.

Mr Charles Otieno, curator at Lodwar Museum said the existence of the stone stools in the region will promote tourism attraction and boost the economy of the region.

“We will have many visitors across the world coming to see the stone tools in Turkana this will economically empower the region,” Mr Otieno said.

Mr Otieno said the introduction of the paleo-guide course at TUC will benefit local students currently saying the last cohorts of students out of ten students seven were locals.

County librarian Helene Mbotela said the Turkana Public Library is host to an exhibition with the Lomekwian stone tools, which are estimated to be 3.3 million years. These tools were discovered at Lomekwi 3 site, which gives evidence for the older stone instrument.

“We are also setting up and equipping the public library to help break down barriers to knowledge, equip adults and students with basic knowledge and skills of reading,” Ms Mbotela said.

Ms Mbotela said the library will enhance information literacy and improve students’ ability to access information effectively and efficiently.

“Since learning is a continuous process, we are also encouraging learners to interact with books by visiting the library not only when reading for exams but always and that they should also have a spirit of inquiry as well as meeting their academic requirements by their teachers,” she said.

She called for more partnerships with other County governments and other stakeholders by creating programmes that will increase county government awareness of the library issues and needs.

“Continuous professional education training and information literacy are needed to increase awareness of the library. This will help address broader community needs in collaboration with other community organisations and establish and strengthen more literacy programs,” she said.

Exhibitions at Lodwar Museum. Photo Turkana Guardian

So far, according to Josphat Etiir, an assistant curator at the museum, more than 300 tourists from Loima, Turkana West, Turkana Central and other parts of the country had visited the museum since the launch of the exhibition in November to learn and experience the Lomekwian stone tools that are estimated to be about 3.3 million years old.

This he attributed to the media outreaches done by Ata Nayece and Ekeyokon radios as well as adverts from Turkana Guardian digital platforms. The assistant curator added that they expect more visitors during the Christmas period and early in the New Year.

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