The origins of the Middle Stone Age and Levallois technology: Kapthurin Formation, Lake Baringo, Kenya

Photo: Boniface Kimeu, Koimilot Locus 1 2001 excavations, Bernard 'Kanyenze' Ngeneo.

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) is the archaeological signature associated with the earliest fossils of Homo sapiens, and the Kapthurin Formation of Kenya provides one of the few stratigraphic sequences where the origins of MSA technology from Early Stone Age (ESA) antecedents can be observed, including some of the earliest known examples of Levallois methods of flake production that typify many MSA sites.  The Kapthurin Formation is a suite of Middle Pleistocene sediments exposed west of Lake Baringo in the Eastern or Gregory Rift Valley.  Through fieldwork and geochemical analyses using an electron microprobe, I compiled a stratigraphic sequence of ESA and MSA sites to examine the complex nature of technological change, examined lateral variation in ancient environments, and excavated the site of Koimilot, dated to about 200,000 years ago and one of a handful of early MSA sites in eastern Africa.  The evidence from sites such as the Leakey Handaxe site and Koimilot demonstrate an early age for Levallois technology in Africa, and show that African hominins express nearly the full diversity of Levallois approaches to flake production from the onset of its use.


McBrearty, Sally & Christian Tryon

2006 From Acheulean to Middle Stone Age in the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya. In Transitions Before the Transition: Evolution and Stability in the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age. E.Hovers & S. Kuhn, eds: Springer, pp. 257-277. pdf

Tryon, Christian
2010 How the geological record affects our reconstructions of early Middle Stone Age settlement patterns: The case of an alluvial fan setting for Koimilot (Kapthurin Formation), Kenya. In Settlement Dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age. N. Conard & A. Delagnes, eds. Tubingen: Kerns Verlag, pp. 39-66. pdf

Tryon, Christian
2006 "Early" Middle Stone Age lithic technology of the Kapthurin Formation (Kenya). Current Anthropology 47(2):367-375. pdf

Tryon, Christian; McBrearty, Sally & Pierre-Jean Texier
2005 Levallois lithic technology from the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya: Acheulian origin and Middle Stone Age diversity. African Archaeological Review 22(4):199-229. pdf

Tryon, Christian
2005 Le concept Levallois en Afrique. Annales Fyssen 20:132-145. pdf

Tryon, Christian & Sally McBrearty
2002 Tephrostratigraphy and the Acheulian to Middle Stone Age transition in the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution 42:211-235. pdf

Tryon, Christian & Sally McBrearty
2006 Tephrostratigraphy of the Bedded Tuff Member (Kapthurin Formation, Kenya) and the nature of archaeological change in the later Middle Pleistocene. Quaternary Research 65:492-507. pdf

Tryon, Christian
2002 Middle Pleistocene sites from the "southern" Kapthurin Formation, Kenya. Nyame Akuma 57:6-13. pdf

Project collaborators

Sally McBrearty, University of Connecticut

Nick Blegen, University of Connecticut

Pierre-Jean Texier, University of Bordeaux