TUKUL 1: African Prehistory

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Koobi Fora

The site

On the northeast bank of Lake Turkana, the region of Koobi Fora comprises a vast closed basin gathering a series of Plio-Pleistocene alluvial sediments deposited by watercourses and fluctuations of the lake, interstratified with volcanic tuffs.

Stratigraphy and chronology

The numerous lithic artifacts found here – in the lower member of the Koobi Fora Formation, superimposed on volcanic tuff (Suregey Tuff, dated to 3.2 Myr) and sealed by the KBS tuff (dated to 1.8 Myr), and in the upper member (Okote Member, dated to 1.5 Myr) – constitute one of the richest and most complete records of the activity of the first hominids. An in-depth study of the deposits has shown that geomorphological conditions changed markedly over time, causing significant environmental changes which affected the lifestyle of these hominids

Lithic and faunal remains

Many sites with Oldowan industries were discovered in the upper part of the lower member of the Koobi Fora Formation and in the KBS tuff, which is coeval with Bed I in Olduvai. Seasonal floods rapidly covered up these sites with fluvial sediments. The most remarkable is site KBS 50, about m2 of which were explored. It yielded about 1500 artifacts and 2000 faunal remains, which had not undergone significant dislocation, as proved by that fact that it was possible to refit many of them.

Elephas teeth

The bone remains, some of which show traces of butchering, include hippopotamus, Suids, giraffe, antelope, gazelle, and porcupine. A study of the lithic assemblage - prevalently of basalt, and including cores, choppers, a few tools, and numerous flakes - established that they were produced on the site. The excellent state of preservation of the lithic artifacts also encouraged studies on their use, which indicated they may have been employed on several materials, including wood. Many sites were found in the upper member of the Koobi Fora Formation (Okote Member). They also stood near water courses and were distributed chronologically between 1.6 and 1.25 Myr. Their lithic assemblages, featuring cores, choppers, scrapers, and tools with bifacial retouching, have been designated as “Karari industry”. They indicate a higher technical ability than displayed by earlier Oldowan complexes.


This industry, largely coeval with the late Oldowan and the earliest Acheulean of Bed II in Olduvai, is correlated with the appearance of Homo erectus.

The remains of hominids in the Koobi Fora Formation are numerous and form an especially rich sample.

Among the best known specimens are KNM-ER 1470, the most complete H. habilis skull found so far, and KNM-ER 1813, attributed to a gracile form of Australopithecus, both from the lower member of the formation.

Skull of
Homo rudolfensis

Skull of Australopithecus (Paranthropus) aethiopicus

Skull of Kenyanthropus platyops

Skull of Homo erectus (KNM-WT 15000)



B. Asfaw, Y. Beyene, G. Suwa, R.C. Walter, T.D. White, G. Woldegabriel, T. Yemane 1992, The earliest Acheulean from Konso-Gardula, Nature, 6460, 362, pp. 732-735.

G. Suwa, B. Asfaw, Y. Beyene, T.D. White, S. Katoh, S. Nagaoka, H. Nakaya, K. Uzawa, P. Renne, G. Woldegabriel 1997, The first skull of Australopithecus boisei, Nature, 389, pp. 489-492.

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