Old stone tools point to early innovation in Turkana

Wednesday December 15 2021
Stone artefacts.

Sports, Culture and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed (centre) during the unveiling of the artefacts at the National Museums of Kenya. PHOTO | PAULINE KAIRU | NMG


Kenya's Great Rift Valley has long been dubbed the cradle of mankind, but discoveries in Turkana’s Lomekwi area suggest it may also be home to innovation and industrialisation.

“These stone tools and accompanying artefacts provide the earliest evidence for technology anywhere in the world.

The discovery of what are currently the world’s oldest known stone tools — dating 3.3 million years ago, these and other artefacts found on the site are important in characterising the environment in which hominins lived 3.4 million years ago,” said Sports, Culture and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed during their unveiling of the artefacts at the National Museums of Kenya.

Kenya unveiled the Turkana Tools —The Dawn of Technology last week at the National Museums of Kenya, in a public exhibition that will see the artefacts sent to Kitale for three months before settling in its home town in Lodwar, Turkana.

NMK will exhibit the Turkana Tools in Nairobi between December 2 and February 28 to mark the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the world’s oldest stone tools.

“The artefacts tell us that more than three million years ago our ancestors right here in Kenya were innovative enough to hit stones together to strike off sharp flakes that could be used as tools, hence the conclusion that our evolutionary use of tools first happened here,” said lead archaeologist of the site, Prof Sonia Harmand.


Their findspot at Lomekwi 3, located by the side of a dry river bed pushes back the date for the first stone tools. Discovery of the site was first made in 2011 by Sammy Lokorodi, an expert fossil and stone tool hunter from Turkana a senior member of the West Turkana Archaeological Project (WTAP) team — a long-term multidisciplinary scientific project that conducts field work on the western shores of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.

According to Prof Harmand, the stone tools recovered from the site are made of large, tough lava rocks that were knapped to make tools.

At the museum, the NMK and WTAP has alongside the artefacts, videos to give visitors an overview and tour of the site and geology around the site, including a look at the key stratigraphic markers used to date the site and understand the local environment when the site was occupied 3.3 million years ago.

This is the same site on which an important hominin fossil — Kenyanthropus platyops — was previously recovered along the Kokiselei river.

The exhibition presents the work done by French and Kenyan archaeologists and palaeoscientists’ teams in Turkana, as well as the role played by the local population.

The tactile exhibition designed for a large audience and will be interactive, allowing visitors to touch and feel.

“The casts of the original Lomekwi 3 artefacts are available for manipulation. Large format photos stimulate visitors to think about the very collaborative nature of the work of archaeologists. Activities, like a mock excavation, have been designed for school going children,” said director of antiquities, sites and monuments at NMK, Prof Kyalo Manthi.

“The exhibition we open to the public tonight showcases the result of archaeologic work conducted by Kenyan and French researchers in the past 25 years in Turkana,” said ambassador of France to Kenya Ms Aline Kuster-Menager.

“The Turkana Basin is a major area to understand the deep past of humanity. A series of astonishing discoveries occurred on the East and West banks of the Turkana Lake, especially on hominids, our common ancestors,” she said.

The project brings together the NMK, the Turkana Basin Institute, the Turkana University College, the Institut de Recherche en Afrique, the French National Centre for Scientific research, the Mission Préhistorique au Kenya and the French Embassy. And also supports training of Kenyan researchers.