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Discovery of early man tools inspires research by Yale, MMU scientists

 The prehistoric site at Yiapan family Land in Narok North Subcounty, with some of the stone tools popping from the ground during excavation that took 7 years to complete. [Courtesy]

Ancient stone tools discovered in Narok county and believed to be between 60,000 to a million years old have attracted interest from researchers in institutions of higher learning.

Maasai Mara University (MMU) will collaborate with Yale University Senior Lecturer and Archaeologist Veronica Waweru who led other scientists in a 7-year excavation of the stone tools believed to have been made used and improved upon by Homo erectus, archaic Homo sapiens and modern Homo sapiens.

The Director of Linkages at MMU Lankeu Ole Reson said they are seeking a partnership with the archaeologists for further multidisciplinary research, in which the university can join the team for teaching purposes and social concepts, and to bring on board the community and other stakeholders.

“We have already engaged the owners of the farm led by Patrick ole Yiapan on how the scientists from the university can be brought on board as well and we are having a virtual meeting with the lead archaeologist from Yale University in the USA for collaboration purposes,” said Reson in a telephone interview.      

Dr Waweru is an archaeological anthropologist whose research interests cover prehistoric technological change and innovation in human species, focusing on highland areas. She is also passionate about involving local communities in knowledge production in prehistory research.

Dr Waweru was leading a group of scientists in the research, among them zoo-archaeologist Christine Ogola, geologist Christine Omuombo, palynologist Rahab Kinyanjui, palaeontologist John Kibii and computer engineer scientist Stephen Thomson who confirmed the highlands were also a potential hub of human evolution.

The discovery put Narok County on the global archaeological map after the scientists confirmed that a haul of picks, flakes, stone spearheads and hand axes found in the Narok highlands were used by the three species of human Ancestors.

The discovery comes after the scientists completed fieldwork supported by Yale University’s MacMillan Centre, National Geographic and the local community at Yiapan prehistoric site at Eor-Enkitok village where they established that both technological and biological evolution in this high-elevation locality took place.

According to Dr Waweru, the makers of the tools likely utilised the lower-lying areas in the Rift Valley during favourable climates but shifted to the highlands on the Mau escarpment during dryer conditions. It is also possible that they were adapted to living in the Mau Escarpment in Narok County.

“The excavation gave a new look at how early  hominids lived on different elevations and habitats at different times in prehistory. They faced catastrophic periodic volcanic explosions but still returned to the site. Thousands of tons of ash would be spewed into the air and settle back on top of the landscape.” said Waweru.

Dr Waweru, also the Director of the Undergraduate Studies Council on Africa Studies at Yale University, said the hominids still returned to this site several times due to the presence of a large water body nearby.

Waweru added; “We found a layer of volcanic ash and then vegetation would grow back on that surface. You’d get a nice soil layer, hominids would live on the land surface, and then another explosion would happen and cover it, meaning there was migration in and out of the land at different times in the last 1 million years.”

She said the discovery along with recent findings from the Central Highlands of Kenya in Mount Kenya region, challenge the notion that the story of human origins is centered in the extensive Rift Valley.

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