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Concept: Lake Turkana

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The nature of inter-group relations among prehistoric hunter-gatherers remains disputed, with arguments in favour and against the existence of warfare before the development of sedentary societies. Here we report on a case of inter-group violence towards a group of hunter-gatherers from Nataruk, west of Lake Turkana, which during the late Pleistocene/early Holocene period extended about 30 km beyond its present-day shore. Ten of the twelve articulated skeletons found at Nataruk show evidence of having died violently at the edge of a lagoon, into which some of the bodies fell. The remains from Nataruk are unique, preserved by the particular conditions of the lagoon with no evidence of deliberate burial. They offer a rare glimpse into the life and death of past foraging people, and evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

Concepts: Lake Turkana, Violence against women, Domestic violence, Kenya, War, Life, Holocene, Violence

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The Acheulean technological tradition, characterized by a large (>10 cm) flake-based component, represents a significant technological advance over the Oldowan. Although stone tool assemblages attributed to the Acheulean have been reported from as early as circa 1.6-1.75 Ma, the characteristics of these earliest occurrences and comparisons with later assemblages have not been reported in detail. Here, we provide a newly established chronometric calibration for the Acheulean assemblages of the Konso Formation, southern Ethiopia, which span the time period ∼1.75 to <1.0 Ma. The earliest Konso Acheulean is chronologically indistinguishable from the assemblage recently published as the world's earliest with an age of ∼1.75 Ma at Kokiselei, west of Lake Turkana, Kenya. This Konso assemblage is characterized by a combination of large picks and crude bifaces/unifaces made predominantly on large flake blanks. An increase in the number of flake scars was observed within the Konso Formation handaxe assemblages through time, but this was less so with picks. The Konso evidence suggests that both picks and handaxes were essential components of the Acheulean from its initial stages and that the two probably differed in function. The temporal refinement seen, especially in the handaxe forms at Konso, implies enhanced function through time, perhaps in processing carcasses with long and stable cutting edges. The documentation of the earliest Acheulean at ∼1.75 Ma in both northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia suggests that behavioral novelties were being established in a regional scale at that time, paralleling the emergence of Homo erectus-like hominid morphology.

Concepts: Periodization, Time, Turkana people, Ethiopia, Chronology, Lake Turkana, Homo erectus, Kenya

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Although ecometric methods have been used to analyse fossil mammal faunas and environments of Eurasia and North America, such methods have not yet been applied to the rich fossil mammal record of eastern Africa. Here we report results from analysis of a combined dataset spanning east and west Turkana from Kenya between 7 and 1 million years ago (Ma). We provide temporally and spatially resolved estimates of temperature and precipitation and discuss their relationship to patterns of faunal change, and propose a new hypothesis to explain the lack of a temperature trend. We suggest that the regionally arid Turkana Basin may between 4 and 2 Ma have acted as a ‘species factory’, generating ecological adaptations in advance of the global trend. We show a persistent difference between the eastern and western sides of the Turkana Basin and suggest that the wetlands of the shallow eastern side could have provided additional humidity to the terrestrial ecosystems. Pending further research, a transient episode of faunal change centred at the time of the KBS Member (1.87-1.53 Ma), may be equally plausibly attributed to climate change or to a top-down ecological cascade initiated by the entry of technologically sophisticated humans.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Major transitions in human evolution’.

Concepts: Human, Lake Turkana, Paleontology, Homo erectus, Kenya, Climate, Evolution, Charles Darwin

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In order to explore the possibilities of using zinc (Zn) stable isotope ratios as dietary indicators, we report here on the measurements of the ratio of stable isotopes of zinc ((66)Zn/(64)Zn, expressed here as δ(66)Zn) in bioapatite (bone and dental enamel) of animals from a modern food web in the Koobi Fora region of the Turkana Basin in Kenya. We demonstrate that δ(66)Zn values in both bone and enamel allow a clear distinction between carnivores and herbivores from this food web. Differences were also observed between browsers and grazers as well as between carnivores that consumed bone (i.e. hyenas) compared to those that largely consume flesh (i.e. lions). We conclude that Zn isotope ratio measurements of bone and teeth are a new and promising dietary indicator.

Concepts: Animal, Omnivore, Zinc, Predation, Nuclide, Isotopes, Lake Turkana, Ratio

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Fish fossils were recovered from three different depositional contexts at the Pliocene Kanapoi site to: 1) test the assumption that habitat and ecology of modern fish taxa can predict habitat and ecology of fossil taxa; 2) reconstruct the lake and river environments in the Kanapoi Formation, with reference to fish fossils from the nearby Lothagam site deposits; and 3) investigate biogeographical inferences from the fossils. We compare the Kanapoi fish taxa and their depositional environments with the taxa and environments in modern Lake Turkana, and with another Plio-Pleistocene fauna from the eastern Turkana Basin. Taphonomic caveats are discussed. Our results support the use of ecological preferences of modern fish to predict past preferences. Our analysis of the Kanapoi fossils also indicates that the Pliocene Lonyumun Lake had a diverse fauna, with an unusual mix of taxa compared to the modern lake. The presence of possibly endemic species in the Pliocene lake may additionally represent a period of isolation during this epoch. Few fish fossils were recovered in the deposits of the ancestral Kerio River, a primary affluent of Lonyumun Lake then as now, but those present indicate a different ecology than that interpreted for the modern lake. Previously unknown fish taxa which enter the lake during the Pliocene suggest the existence of a connection between the Nile River and the Turkana Basin, which may have been viable for other vertebrates, including hominins.

Concepts: Sediment, Turkana people, Drainage basin, African Great Lakes, Kerio River, Nile, Biodiversity, Lake Turkana

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Fossil bats from the Pliocene of Africa are extremely rare, especially in East Africa where meager records have been reported only from two localities in the Omo River Basin Shungura Formation and from a scattering of localities in the Afar Depression, both in Ethiopia. Here we report on a diverse assemblage of bats from Kanapoi in the Turkana Basin that date to approximately 4.19 million years ago. The Kanapoi bat community consists of four different species of fruit bats including a new genus and two new species as well as five species of echolocating bats, the most common of which are two new species of the molossid genus Mops. Additionally, among the echolocating bats, a new species of the emballonurid Saccolaimus is documented at Kanapoi along with an additional Saccolaimus species and a potentially new species of the nycterid Nycteris. Compared to other East African Pliocene bat assemblages, the Kanapoi bat community is unique in preserving molossids and curiously lacks any evidence of cave dwelling bats like rhinolophids or hipposiderids, which are both common at other East African sites. The bats making up the Kanapoi community all typically roost in trees, with some preferring deeper forests and larger trees (molossids), while the others (pteropodids, nycterids and emballonurids) roost in trees near open areas. Living fruit bats that are related to Kanapoi species typically forage for fruits along the margins of forests and in open savannah. The echolocating forms from Kanapoi consist of groups that aerially hawk for insects in open areas between patches of forest and along water courses. The habitats preferred by living relatives of the Kanapoi bats are in agreement with those constructed for Kanapoi based on other lines of evidence.

Concepts: Mammal, Bats, Lake Turkana, Kenya, Africa, Animal echolocation, Microbat, Bat

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Cystic echinococcosis (CE), a widespread, complex zoonosis, causes chronic disease associated with high morbidity. The pastoral Turkana people of Kenya have one of the highest prevalence rates of CE in the world. Between 1983 and 2015, a CE control program in the Turkana region used ultrasound (US) screening surveys and surgical outreach visits to evaluate CE prevalence and treat those with the disease. As the gold standard modality for diagnosing CE, US reveals a great deal of information about the disease in affected populations. The aim of this study is to discuss the characteristics of untreated CE in the Turkana people as revealed by US data collected during the CE control program and evaluate disease presentation, factors influencing the risk of transmission, and the timeline of disease progression. Data were obtained from written patient notes from US screenings and images; cysts were classified using the World Health Organization (WHO) standardized US classification of CE. Findings include greater prevalence of cysts, later stages of cysts, and multiple cysts in older age groups, with no multiple cysts occurring in patients under six years of age, which are consistent with the assertion that rates of exposure, transmission, and infection increase with age in endemic regions.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Turkana people, Medicine, Prevalence, World Health Organization, Kenya, Epidemiology, Lake Turkana

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Three crocodylid species are known from the Pliocene Kanapoi locality in the western Turkana Basin. One of these, Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni, includes material previously referred to Crocodylus niloticus (the modern Nile crocodile currently living in Lake Turkana) and Rimasuchus lloydi. C. thorbjarnarsoni was a gigantic horned crocodile similar in overall shape to most other generalized crocodylids, but its closest known relative is another extinct species, Crocodylus anthropophagus from the Pleistocene of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. It is not closely related to C. niloticus. The second is an extinct form of sharp-nosed crocodile (Mecistops), a group of slender-snouted crocodylids currently restricted to western and central Africa. The third is Euthecodon, a crocodylid with an extremely long, slender, and distinctively notched snout. Euthecodon and C. thorbjarnarsoni are known from substantial numbers of specimens, but only one Mecistops specimen has been identified from the locality. The crocodylian fauna at Kanapoi is taxonomically similar to that of most other Plio-Pleistocene fluviolacustrine deposits in the Turkana Basin. Crocodylian diversity in the Turkana region contracted from a peak of five co-existing species in the late Miocene to one today; this contraction was underway by the early Pliocene, but crocodylian diversity remained stable at three species until well into the Quaternary.

Concepts: Africa, Evolution, Lake Turkana, Reptiles of Africa, Crocodilia, Crocodiles, Crocodylidae, Crocodile

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The whole collection of Suidae from Kanapoi is revised in the context of the systematics and evolution of Nyanzachoerus in the Pliocene of Eastern Africa. It contains only two species, Nyanzachoerus kanamensis and Notochoerus jaegeri. The size and morphology of their premolars overlap, but not those of their m3s. No transitional form between them is known in Kenya, but some populations from Uganda and Ethiopia display intermediate characters, suggesting that No. jaegeri could be descended from a kanamensis-like ancestor. However, the cranial remains of No. jaegeri from Kanapoi are insufficient to formally establish the affinities of the species. On the basis of the dentition, Notochoerus euilus could be descended from No. jaegeri. The noticeable absence of Kolpochoerus at Kanapoi (and in the whole Turkana Basin at that time) remains unexplained. The presence of a species with affinity to Nyanzachoerus tulotos at Ekora raises the possibility that uppermost Miocene sediments occur there.

Concepts: Common descent, Tanzania, Africa, Lake Turkana, Uganda, Sudan, East Africa, Kenya

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The Oldowan archeological record of the Shungura Formation, Member F (Lower Omo valley, Ethiopia) comprises more than one hundred occurrences distributed within archeological complexes, where multiple small spots were found in association with one or two larger occurrences. Such spatial patterning could reflect hominin spatial behavior, repeated occupations within a single sedimentary unit, or taphonomic and/or collection biases. Here we test these hypotheses by way of a geoarcheological and taphonomical analysis using four criteria to assess the preservation of the lithic assemblages: (1) size composition, (2) artifact abrasion, (3) bone abrasion, and (4) orientations of lithic artifacts and bones (i.e., fabrics). We propose a new model of taphonomically induced spatial patterning where the multiple, small, well circumscribed occurrences result primarily from post-depositional processes and therefore do not reflect any underlying behavioral patterns. The large number of archeological occurrences documented in Member F, therefore, corresponds to a limited number of primary occupations (<10). The archeological occupation is mainly restricted to the lower part of Member F and may reflect a single or a small number of occupation episodes, which were located on previous levees of the paleo-Omo River, in nearby floodplain areas, or on the riverbank. This strongly suggests that most of the knapping activities originally took place close to the river. This preference of the Omo toolmakers for riverine environments could explain the scarcity of archeological material in the upper part of Member F that comprises primarily distal floodplain sedimentary facies.

Concepts: Mursi, Lake Turkana, Archaeological sub-disciplines, Omo National Park, Oldowan, River, Omo River, Archaeology