Paleoanthropologists have a difficult job; trying to piece together the events of early human evolution and development using incomplete fragments of scattered fossils and tools. As a result, up till the middle of the 20th century, the scientific ideas on early humanoid evolution were incomplete and based on theorized accounts. It wasn’t until 1968 that Richard Leaky started excavation at Turkana Basin, a lake in the desserts of northern Kenya, that paleoanthropologists met their boon.

The lake is situated in volcanic soil, which preserved fossils in near immaculate conditions. Around the Lake fossils and tools spanning a 4 million year period were discovered, fundamentally changing our perception of early human history. The discovery of “Turkana boy”, the most complete humanoid fossil to date in 1984 affirmed the emerging belief of that time that humans did not evolve from a single direct lineage, but that there were several off-shoots that co-existed. The lake still continues to provide valuable insights. Throughout the following years several species from other lines were discovered and categorized, enriching understanding further. Recently in 2015 and 2011, collections of stone tools several million years old were discovered. Today, thanks to the preservative qualities of this single spot, humanity’s understanding of its early origins is broader than ever.

“Fossil species were tumbling out

of the ground.”

–Dr Meave Leakey, recalling the early

excavations at Lake Turkana, 2015.