Tyler Faith is a researcher from the University of Queensland in Australia. He was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant during our spring 2015 cycle for his project entitled “Middle Stone Age of the Gwasi and Uyoma Peninsulas, Kenya.”
The central challenge in modern human origins research is to determine when, where, and why our species – Homo sapiens – began to display the behaviors that define us as human. The implications of this are linked to one of humanity’s fundamental questions: what made us human? Because the behaviors of contemporary hunter-gatherers are deeply intertwined with their environment, it has long been thought that environmental change played a key role in our recent evolutionary history. However, while scientists working elsewhere in Africa have generated detailed archaeological and environmental records, our understanding of modern human origins in East Africa, which provides the earliest fossils of Homo sapiens, has received relatively little attention and remains poorly understood.
The first step to resolving this issue: find new sites! Our team aims to do just that through exploration of the Gwasi and Uyoma Peninsulas along the shores of Lake Victoria in western Kenya. Since the early 1900s, archaeologists and geologists working here have reported sites yielding fossil animal remains and stone tools of the type associated with early Homo sapiens, yet they have never been examined in detail.
Through systematic survey – long hikes over rough terrain – we will find these sites and collect archaeological and geological samples to begin to understand the early humans who once lived in the region, the types of plants and animals in their environment, and how they changed through time. By integrating these observations with those from other sites in the Lake Victoria region that we have studied since 2009, we will ultimately develop a long-term record of human behavioral evolution and environmental change in the East African homeland of our species.