The Pleistocene archaeology and environments of the Wasiriya Beds, Rusinga Island, Kenya

Christian A. Tryon, J. Tyler Faith, Daniel J. Peppe, David L Fox, Kieran P McNulty, Kirsten Jenkins, Holly Dunsworth, W. Harcourt-Smith Will

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49 Scopus citations


Western Kenya is well known for abundant early Miocene hominoid fossils. However, the Wasiriya Beds of Rusinga Island, Kenya, preserve a Pleistocene sedimentary archive with radiocarbon age estimates of >33-45 ka that contains Middle Stone Age artifacts and abundant, well-preserved fossil fauna: a co-occurrence rare in eastern Africa, particularly in the region bounding Lake Victoria. Artifacts and fossils are associated with distal volcanic ash deposits that occur at multiple localities in the Wasiriya Beds, correlated on the basis of geochemical composition as determined by electron probe microanalysis. Sediment lithology and the fossil ungulates suggest a local fluvial system and associated riparian wooded habitat within a predominantly arid grassland setting that differs substantially from the modern environment, where local climate is strongly affected by moisture availability from Lake Victoria. In particular, the presence of oryx (Oryx gazella) and Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi) suggest a pre-Last Glacial Maximum expansion of arid grasslands, an environmental reconstruction further supported by the presence of several extinct specialized grazers (Pelorovis antiquus, Megalotragus sp., and a small alcelaphine) that are unknown from Holocene deposits in eastern Africa. The combination of artifacts, a rich fossil fauna, and volcaniclastic sediments makes the Wasiriya Beds a key site for examining the Lake Victoria basin, a biogeographically important area for understanding the diversification and dispersal of Homo sapiens from Africa, whose pre-Last Glacial Maximum history remains poorly understood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)657-671
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Aridity
  • Lake Victoria
  • Middle Stone Age
  • Pleistocene

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