Skip to main content Accessibility help

Lithic technological strategies of the earliest herders at Lake Turkana, northern Kenya

  • Steven T. Goldstein (a1)


The spread and persistence of early forms of mobile food production throughout Africa depended on the ability of herding communities to adapt to novel social and environmental challenges. This article presents the first quantitative technological analysis of lithic assemblages from the earliest eastern African pastoralist sites, located in the Lake Turkana Basin of northern Kenya. In this region, transitions to pastoralism involved the adoption of a new, regionally homogeneous technological strategy, which emphasised utility and flexibility. This research provides new insights into how early herders were able to spread through sub-Saharan Africa during a period of extreme climate change.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Lithic technological strategies of the earliest herders at Lake Turkana, northern Kenya
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Lithic technological strategies of the earliest herders at Lake Turkana, northern Kenya
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Lithic technological strategies of the earliest herders at Lake Turkana, northern Kenya
      Available formats


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Hide All
Ambrose, S.H. 1984. The introduction of pastoral adaptations to the highlands of East Africa, in Clark, D. & Brandt, S.A. (ed.) From hunters to farmers: the causes and consequences of food production in Africa: 212–39. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ambrose, S.H. 1998. Chronology of the later Stone Age and food production in East Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 25: 377–92.
Ambrose, S.H. 2002. Small things remembered: origins of early microlithic industries in sub-Saharan Africa. Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 12: 929.
Ambrose, S.H. 2012. Obsidian dating and source exploitation studies in Africa, in Liritzis, I. & Stevenson, C. (ed.) Obsidian and ancient manufactured glasses. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Andrefsky, W. Jr 2009. The analysis of stone tool procurement, production, and maintenance. Journal of Archaeological Research 17: 65103.
Ashley, G.M., Ndiema, E.K., Spencer, J.Q.G., Harris, J.W.K., Kiura, P.W., Dibble, L., Du, A. & Lordan, P.T.. 2017. Paleoenvironmental reconstruction of Dongodien, Lake Turkana, Kenya and OSL dating of site occupation during Lake Holocene climate change. African Archaeological Review 34: 345–62.
Barthelme, J. 1977. Holocene sites north-east of Lake Turkana: a preliminary report. Azania: Journal of the British Institute in Eastern Africa 12: 3341.
Barthelme, J. 1981. Late Pleistocene–Holocene prehistory to the north-east of Lake Turkana, Kenya. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.
Barthelme, J. 1985. Fisher-hunters and Neolithic pastoralists in East Turkana, Kenya (Cambridge Monographs in African History 13, British Archaeological Reports International series 254). Oxford: Archaeopress.
Beyin, A. 2011. Recent archaeological survey and excavation around the greater Kalokol area, west side of Lake Turkana: preliminary findings. Nyame Akuma 75: 4050.
Beyin, A., Prendergast, M.E., Grillo, K.M. & Wang, H.. 2017. New radiocarbon dates for Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene settlements in west Turkana, northern Kenya. Quaternary Science Reviews 168: 208–15.
Binford, L.R. 1979. Organization and formation processes: looking at curated technologies. Journal of Anthropological Research 35: 255–73.
Bollig, M., Schnegg, M. & Wotzka, H.P. (ed.). 2013. Pastoralism in Africa: past, present and future: 289315. Oxford: Berghahn.
Bower, J. 1991. The pastoral Neolithic of East Africa. Journal of World Prehistory 5: 4982.
Bronk Ramsey, C. 2009. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51: 337–60.
Brown, F.H., Nash, B.P., Fernandez, D.P., Merrick, H.V. & Thomas, R.J.. 2013. Geochemical composition of source obsidians from Kenya. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 3233–51.
Cremaschi, M. & di Lernia, S.. 1999. Holocene climatic changes and cultural dynamics in the Libyan Sahara. African Archaeological Review 16: 211–38.
Garcea, E.A.A. 2005. Comparing chaînes opératoires: technological, cultural, and chronological features of pre-pastoral and pastoral ceramic and lithic productions, in Livingstone Smith, A., Bosquet, D. & Martineau, R. (ed.) Pottery manufacturing processes: reconstitution and interpretation (British Archaeological Reports International series 1349): 215–28. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Gifford-Gonzalez, D. 2005. Pastoralism and its consequences, in Stahl, A. (ed.) African archaeology: a critical introduction: 187224. London: Blackwell.
Goldstein, S.T. 2018. Picking up the pieces: reconstructing lithic production strategies at a Late Holocene obsidian quarry in southern Kenya. Journal of Field Archaeology 43: 85101.
Goldstein, S.T. 2019. Knowledge transmission through the lens of lithic production: a case study from the pastoral Neolithic of southern Kenya. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 26: 679713.
Grillo, K.M. & Hildebrand, E.A.. 2013. The context of early megalithic architecture in eastern Africa: the Turkana Basin c. 5000–4000 BP. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 48: 193217.
Hildebrand, E.A. & Grillo, K.M.. 2012. Early herders and monumental sites in eastern Africa: dating and interpretation. Antiquity 86: 338–52.
Hildebrand, E.A., Shea, J.J. & Grillo, K.M.. 2011. Four Middle Holocene pillar sites in west Turkana, Kenya. Journal of Field Archaeology 36: 181200.
Hildebrand, E.A. et al. 2018. A monumental cemetery built by eastern Africa's earliest herders near Lake Turkana, Kenya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 115: 8942–47.
Holl, A.F. 2005. Holocene ‘aquatic’ adaptations in north tropical Africa, in Stahl, A. (ed.) African archaeology: a critical introduction: 174–86. London: Blackwell.
Kuper, R. & Kröpelin, S.. 2006. Climate-controlled Holocene occupation in the Sahara: motor of Africa's evolution. Science 313: 803807.
Lahr, M.M. et al. 2016. Inter-group violence among Early Holocene hunter-gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya. Nature 529: 394–98.
van der Lubbe, H.J.L., Krause-Nehring, J., Junginger, A., Garcin, Y., Joordens, J.C.A., Davies, G.R., Beck, C., Feibel, C.S., Johnson, T.C. & Vonhof, H.B.. 2017. Gradual or abrupt? Changes in water source of Lake Turkana (Kenya) during the African Humid period inferred from Sr isotope ratios. Quaternary Science Reviews 174: 112.
Marshall, F. & Hildebrand, E.. 2002. Cattle before crops: the beginnings of food production in Africa. Journal of World Prehistory 16: 99143.
Marshall, F., Stewart, K. & Barthelme, J.. 1984. Early domestic stock at Dongodien in northern Kenya. Azania: Journal of the British Institute in Eastern Africa 19(1): 120–27.
Marshall, F., Grillo, K.M. & Arco, L.. 2011. Prehistoric pastoralists and social responses to climatic risk in East Africa, in Miller, N., Moore, K. & Ryan, K. (ed.) Sustainable lifeways: cultural persistence in an ever-changing environment: 3974. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
McCabe, J.T. 2004. Cattle bring us to our enemies: Turkana ecology, politics, and raiding in a disequilibrium system. Detroit: University of Michigan Press.
Nash, B.P., Merrick, H.V. & Brown, F.H.. 2011. Obsidian types from Holocene sites around Lake Turkana, and other localities in northern Kenya. Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 1371–76.
Ndiema, E., Dillian, C.D. & Braun, D.R.. 2010. Interaction and exchange across the transition to pastoralism, Lake Turkana, Kenya, in Dillian, C.D. & White, C.L. (ed.) Trade and exchange: studies from history and prehistory: 95110. New York: Springer.
Nelson, C.M. 1973. A comparative analysis of later Stone Age occurrences in East Africa. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of California at Berkeley.
Nelson, C.M. 1995. The work of the Koobi-Fora field school at the Jarigole pillar site. Kenya Past and Present 27: 4963.
Nelson, N.C. 1991. The study of technological organization. Archaeological Method and Theory 3: 57100.
Phillipson, D.W. 1977. Lowasera. Azania 12(1): 132.
Phillipson, D.W. 1984. Aspects of early food production in northern Kenya, in Krzyzaniak, L. & Kobusiewicz, M. (ed.) Origin and early development of food-producing cultures in north-eastern Africa: 489–95. Poznan: Polish Academy of Sciences.
Prendergast, M.E. et al. 2019. Ancient DNA reveals a multistep spread of the first herders into sub-Saharan Africa. Science 30.
Reimer, P.J. et al. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50 000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55: 1869–87.
Robbins, L.H. 1972. Archaeology in the Turkana District, Kenya. Science 176: 359–66.
Robbins, L.H. 1979. The Lothagam site: a Late Stone Age fishing settlement in the Lake Rudolph basin, Kenya (volume 1). Lansing: Michigan State University Press.
Sadr, K. 2015. Livestock first reached southern Africa in two separate events. PLoS ONE 10: e0134215.
Sawchuk, E.A., Goldstein, S.T., Grillo, K.M. & Hildebrand, E.A.. 2018. Cemeteries on a moving frontier: mortuary practices and the spread of pastoralism from the Sahara into eastern Africa. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 51: 187205.
Shackley, M.S. 1988. Sources of archaeological obsidian in the Southwest: an archaeological, petrological and geochemical study. American Antiquity 53: 752–72.
Shott, M. 1986. Technological organization and settlement mobility: an ethnographic examination. Journal of Anthropological Research 42: 1551.
Sutton, J.E. 1977. The African aqualithic. Antiquity 51: 2534.
Tripcevich, N. & Contreras, D.A.. 2013. Archaeological approaches to obsidian quarries: investigations at the Quispisisa source, in Tripcevich, N. & Vaughn, K.J. (ed.) Mining and quarrying in the ancient Andes: 2344. New York: Springer.
Wallace, I.J. & Shea, J.J.. 2006. Mobility patterns and core technologies in the Middle Paleolithic of the Levant. Journal of Archaeological Science 33: 1293–309.
Wandibba, S. 1977. An attribute analysis of the ceramics of the early pastoralist period from the southern Rift Valley, Kenya. Unpublished MA dissertation, University of Nairobi.
Wright, D.K. & Forman, S.L.. 2011. Holocene occupation of the Mount Porr Strand Plain in southern Lake Turkana, Kenya. Nyame Akuma 76: 4762
Wright, D.K., Forman, S.L., Kiura, P., Bloszies, C. & Beyin, A.. 2015. Lakeside view: sociocultural responses to changing water levels of Lake Turkana, Kenya. African Archaeological Review 32: 335–67.
Wright, D.K., Grillo, K.M. & Soper, R.. 2016. Stone cairns and material culture of the Middle to Late Holocene, Lake Turkana. Journal of African Archaeology 14: 209–22.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Goldstein supplementary material
Goldstein supplementary material

 PDF (270 KB)
270 KB

Lithic technological strategies of the earliest herders at Lake Turkana, northern Kenya

  • Steven T. Goldstein (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed