The Archaeology of Human Origins is a field of research that covers a very long time period, almost three millions years, but a restricted geographical area: the Rift Valley in East Africa. The West Turkana Archaeological Project (WTAP) is a joint program between the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and the Mission Préhistorique au Kenya, and is the only French archaeological project in Kenya. It has been entirely devoted to such research for over fifteen years, and has contributed to major discoveries for a better understanding of the emergence and the evolution of the tool-making behaviors of our ancestors. The WTAP has formed an interdisciplinary team for surveying and excavating archaeological sites in the Nachukui Formation, on the west bank of Lake Turkana, in Northern Kenya. The major goal of the WTAP is to shed new light on the behavioral evolution, the origins and adaptations of Australopithecus and early Homo, in both a well defined territory and reconstructed environmental context.

The WTAP was founded in 1994 by Dr. Hélène Roche of the CNRS in Paris, France, and is now directed by Dr. Sonia Harmand (with the Turkana Basin Institute [TBI] at Stony Brook University and the CNRS) and Dr. Jason Lewis (with Dept. of Anthropology and Center for Human Evolutionary Studies [CHES] at Rutgers University, as well as Dept. of Anthropology and the TBI at Stony Brook). The WTAP is a collaborative, international, multi-disciplinary research project that seeks to uncover archaeological traces of our prehuman ancestors in the fossil beds of the West Turkana region in Northern Kenya. This is a beautiful region of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, considered by many to be the "cradle of humanity." The Turkana region has earned its place as one of the world’s most important repositories of evidence of human origins, largely through four decades of exploration by the Leakey family. The WTAP is developing a parallel line of investigation into human origins which focuses on a global understanding of hominin behavior, including tool making and use, as interpreted from the archaeological remains we are excavating from sites dated as far back as 3 Ma and beyond.

The WTAP team has been the only one studying the Earlier Stone Age on the west side of Lake Turkana over the last several decades. During that time, the project has run nearly every summer (with shorter visits to the NMK in Nairobi for analysis in February). Sites and fossils have been found and excavated from throughout the last 2.5 Ma of hominin evolution. Each year more discoveries are made and as a consequence our understanding of the genesis of hominin technology changes. The team discovered the oldest known Acheulean stone tools at 1.76 Ma from Kokiselei 4, a hugely significant find featured as the cover article for Nature in September, 2011. It has also found the oldest sites in Kenya (Nasura 1 and Lokalalei 2C at 2.34 Ma). In total, the WTAP has identified an impressive number of sites over the last two decades, more than 60. Of those, 35 have been excavated or tested, contributing significantly to our present understanding of hominid behavior and its diversity through time.

The WTAP Project receives major support from:


Contact Information

Project Directors:

Dr. Sonia Harmand


Dr. Jason E. Lewis

Emeritus Director:

Dr. Hélène Roche

Related Sites

WTAP Facebook Page

Turkana Basin Institute

CNRS UMR 7055 ‘Préhistoire et Technologie’

Rutgers Center for Human Evolutionary Studies

African Fossils


Stone tools are fossilized human behavior.”

-Louis Leakey

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