The WTPP is pleased to receive funding from NSF in 2020 to work at the Pleistocene site of Natodomeri. Dated to about 185,000 years ago, this site is already yeilding hominin remains, tools, and abundant fascinating fauna that is already challenging long-held assumption about the biogeography and evolution of several vertebrate clades. This project is co-led by Dr. Nick Blegen, and Dr. Patrick Gathogo has also officially joined the team.
The WTPP has renewed fieldwork at Lomekwi, Kenya, concentrating on sediments dated to between 3.5 and 3.3 million years ago. Lomekwi is the site where Kenyanthropus platyops was found, and where the earliest stone tools (the Lomekwian tool industry) were recently recovered. This time period, called the Middle Pliocene, is now known from at least two and perhaps several hominin species in East Africa. Learning how many hominins were around at the time, and who made the earliest stone tools are some of the 'hottest' and most important questions in paleoanthropology. Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation, University of Missouri Research Board and the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, we have completed our first of what we hope will be four field seasons. We found many new fossils, almost so many we hardly had time to collect them all. We look forward to the next few years there!
The WTPP finished four years of successful fieldwork at the 4.2 million year old site of Kanapoi. Kanapoi has yielded the earliest occurrence of Australopithecus, so we wanted to find more fossils of this earliest species, Australopithecus anamensis, and to learn more about the environment in which it appeared. We more than doubled the number of hominins known from the site, and found many hundreds of other fossils from elephants to monkeys to birds to frogs and more. We have published a collection of papers by a large team of experts in a special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution 2020 called "Kanapoi: The Paleobiology of a Hominin Site." These papers document the fossils from Kanapoi, and explore what they tell us about the paleontology, paleoecology, biogeography and evolution of the taxa at Kanpoi. All of our fossil lists will be published at soon so everyone can see what fossils we found and use the data to learn more about human evolution.
Kaitio is a site in the northern part of Lake Turkana that dates to 1.42 million years ago. Here the team recovered the earliest evidence of the modern human hand, showing for the first time that the modern human hand appeared near the time that Acheulean tools first appear in the fossil record. This fossil was published in January 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
New sites in northern West Turkana
The WTPP is also spending time each year exploring new and poorly known localities in the northern portions of West Turkana. Although these sites are remote, they are rich with fossils and hold considerable promise for recovering new hominins, and new evidence of their environments. These sites date from 4 million to as recent as 250,000 years ago, and we are excited to continue our explorations there.