Human disperals in Africa: The natural and cultural prehistory of Lake Victoria

Photos: 2009 excavations at Nyamita; Nubian and other Levallois cores and retouched points from Rusinga Island; geological mapping at Nyamita.

I co-direct the Lake Victoria Prehistory Project (LVPP), investigating the natural and cultural history of Africa’s largest lake and the ancient human populations that lived on its margins, particularly the relationship between environmental change and the dispersal of Homo sapiens across Africa.  Current fieldwork focuses on sediments on islands within Lake Victoria (Rusinga and Mfangano) and on lake margin in western Kenya (at Karungu).  It is a multi-disciplinary project, incorporating specialists in archaeology, tephrostratigraphy, sedimentology, geochronology, paleopedology, paleontology, and isotope biogeochemistry.  Numerous archaeological and paleontological sites dating to between 100,000 and 33,000 years ago are linked by widespread volcanic ash deposits derived from sources >200 km away in the Rift Valley, include a suite of Middle Stone Age (MSA) artifacts and the most diverse fossil fauna from the Late Pleistocene of eastern Africa.  Faunal and sedimentary evidence indicate that early humans in the Lake Victoria region lived in a landscape that was often quite different from the present, as Lake Victoria expanded or dried up in response to environmental and tectonic changes, and many animal communities had species compositions without modern analogue, including not only extinct species but also modern ones whose ranges today are substantially smaller than they were in the past.

Photo: Landing on Mfangano Island, 2010.


Tryon, C.A.; Faith, J.T.; Peppe, D.J.; Beverly, E.J.; Blegen, N.; Blumenthal, S.; Chritz, K.; Driese, S.; Patterson, D.; Sharp, W. (2016) The Pleistocene prehistory of the Lake Victoria basin. Quaternary International 404 (part B): 100-114. pdf

Faith, J.T., Tryon, C.A., Peppe, D.J. (2016) Environmental change, ungulate biogeography, and their implications for early human dispersals in equatorial East Africa. In (S.C Jones and B.A. Stewart, eds.), Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments. New York: Springer, pp. 233-246. pdf

O’Brien, H., Faith, J.T., Jenkins, K., Peppe, D.J., Plummer, T., Jacobs, Z., Li, B., Joahnnes-Boyau, R., Price, G., Feng, X., Tryon, C.A. (2016) Unexpected convergent evolution of nasal domes between Pleistocene bovids and Cretaceous hadrosaur dinosaurs. Current Biology 26: 503-508pdfpdf

Beverly, E.J.; Driese, S.G.; Peppe, Arellano, L.N.; Blegen, N.; Faith, J.T.; Tryon, C.A. (2015) Reconstruction of a semi-arid late Pleistocene paleocatena from the Lake Victoria region, Kenya. Quaternary Research 84: 368-381pdf

Beverly, E.J.; Driese, S.G.; Peppe, D.; Johnson, C.R.; Michel, L.A.; Faith, J.T.; Tryon, C.A.; Sharp, W. (2015) Recurrent spring-fed rivers in a Middle to Late Pleistocene semi-arid grassland: Implications for environments of early humans in the Lake Victoria basin, Kenya. Sedimentology 62: 1611-1635. pdf

Blegen, N.; Tryon, C.A.; Faith, J.T.; Peppe, D.J.; Beverly, E.J.; Li, B.; Jacobs, Z. (2015) Distal tephras of the eastern Lake Victoria basin, Equatorial East Africa: Correlations, chronology and a context for early modern humans. Quaternary Science Reviews 122: 89-111pdf

Faith, J.T.; Tryon, C.A.; Peppe, D.J.; Beverly, E.J.; Blegen, N.; Blumenthal, S.; Chritz, K.L.; Driese, S.G.; Patterson, D. (2015) The Middle Stone Age archaeological and paleoenvironmental record from Karungu, Lake Victoria basin, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution 83: 28-45pdf

Garrett, N.J.; Fox, D.L.; McNulty, K.P.; Tryon, C.A.; Faith, J.T.; Peppe, D.J.; Van Plantinga, A. (2015) Stable isotope paleoecology of Late Pleistocene Middle Stone Age humans from the Lake Victoria basin, equatorial Africa. Journal of Human Evolution 82: 1-14. pdf

Tryon, Christian; Faith, J. Tyler; Peppe, Daniel J.; Keegan, William .F.; Keegan, Kristen; Nightingale, Sheila; Jenkins, Kirsten; Van Plantinga, Alex; Driese, Steve; Roure Johnson, Cara & Beverly, Emily J. (2014)  Sites on the landscape: Paleoenvironmental reconstruction of late Pleistocene archaeological sites from the Lake Victoria Basin, Equatorial Africa. Quaternary International 331:20-30pdf

Faith, J.T.; Tryon, C.A.; Peppe, D.J.; Beverly, E.J.; Blegen, N. (2014) Biogeographic and evolutionary implications of an extinct late Pleistocene impala from the Lake Victoria Basin, Kenya. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 21:213-222pdf

Faith, J. Tyler, Tryon, Christian, Peppe, Daniel & David Fox (2013) The fossil history of Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi) in equatorial East Africa. Journal of Biogeography 40:359-369. pdf

Faith, J. Tyler; Choiniere, Jonah; Tryon, Christian; Peppe, Daniel & David Fox (2011) Taxonomic status and paleoecology of Rusingoryx atopocranion (Mammalia, Artiodactyla), an extinct Pleistocene bovid from Rusinga Island, Kenya. Quaternary Research 75:697-707. pdf

Faith, J. Tyler; Potts, Richard; Plummer, Thomas; Bishop, Laura; Marean, Curtis & Christian Tryon (2012) New perspectives on middle Pleistocene change in the large mammal faunas of East Africa: Damaliscus hypsodon sp. nov. (Mammalia, Artiodactyla) from Lainyamok, Kenya. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 361-362:84-93. pdf

Tryon, Christian; Faith, J. Tyler; Peppe, Daniel; Fox, David; McNulty, Kieran; Jenkins, Kirsten; Dunsworth, Holly & Will Harcourt-Smith (2010) The Pleistocene archaeology and environments of the Wasiriya Beds, Rusinga Island, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution 59:657-671. pdf

Tryon, Christian; Peppe, Daniel; Faith, J. Tyler; Van Plantinga, Alex; Nightingale, Sheila; Ogondo, Julian & David Fox (2012) Late Pleistocene artefacts and fauna from Rusinga and Mfangano islands, Lake Victoria, Kenya. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 47(1):14-38. pdf

Key collaborators

Daniel Peppe (Baylor University)

J. Tyler Faith (University of Queensland)

Steve Driese (Baylor University)

Kieran McNulty (University of Minnesota)

Shikma Zaarur (Yale University)

Nick Blegen (University of Connecticut)

Emily Beverly (Baylor University)

David Patterson (George Washington University)

Cara Roure Johnson (University of Connecticut)

Zenobia Jacobs (University of Wollongong)

Warren Sharp (Berkeley Geochronology Center)

David Fox (University of Minnesota)

Kirsten Jenkins (University of Minnesota)

Niki Garrett (University of Minnesota)

Alex Van Plantinga (Texas A&M)

Sheila Nightingale (City University of New York)

Bill Keegan (Heritage Consultants)