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Kenya -- Archaeology

One of the most important paleontological sites in Kenya is Koobi Fora on the Eastern shore of Lake Turkana. In 1965, Bryan Patterson found fossilized remains of Australopithecus boisei dated at 2.5 million years. This discovery showed that this hominid was older than first thought. Richard Leakey and paleontologists from the University of California have excavated this site since 1969. They found skulls, jaws and leg and arm fragments of Australopithecus boisei dated at 1 to 2 million years. Also found at this site were fossils and stone artifacts of Homo Habilus dated at over 2 million years.

Another important site is Hyrax Hill near Nakuru. Archaeological excavations began in the 1930s and excavation continues to be done periodically. Both an Iron Age and Neolithic site were discovered on this site. Artifacts found include pottery fragments, hut and village remains, and burial mounds. Both Iron Age and Neolithic people chose to bury their dead in the same place. On the site there is also a bao game board carved into a boulder.

Modern archaeological sites include the Swahili settlements on the coast (800 AD to the present). The ruins at Gedi, near Malindi, Mombasa the Lamu Archipelago in Kenya and Pate and Zanzibar in Tanzania have been investigated by archaeologist in order to better understand the Swahili people and maritime communities of the East African coast. The Swahili were an urban-based trading people who inhabited the coast. Archeological evidence suggests that they had their own culture before the adoption of Islam in the late 12th century. In the Lamu area, archaeologist found that a timber phase was followed by stone construction around 920 AD. The ruins at Gedi and houses in Lamu that date from the 19th century reveal the evolution of Swahili architecture and design. Many of the surviving buildings and archaeological evidence show the influence of Islam. Almost every community had a stone mosque, many of which have survived in excellent condition. Archaeological studies in this area have also revealed the extent of trade. Evidence suggests that pottery, glass and beads were imported while ivory, gold, and slaves were exported. This evidence suggests that an important component of the Swahili economy was the manufacturing of goods from raw materials, especially ironwork and textiles.

For Further Reading:

Allen, James de Vere. Swahili Origins. London, 1993.

Horton, Mark. Shanga: The Archeology of a Muslim Trading Community on the Coast of East Of Africa. London and Nairobi, 1996.

Leakey, Richard. The Origin of Mankind. New York, 1996


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