The Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolf) Basin is situated in north western Kenya and southern Ethiopia. It has been known as an important source of Neogene terrestrial vertebrate fossils since the early part of the twentieth century, but it was not until the 1960s that detailed studies were carried out both in the Ethiopian and Kenyan deposits. In 1966, Prof Bryan Patterson initiated a series of Harvard University expeditions to the region between the lower Kerio and Turkwell rivers. Patterson’s expeditions focused first on the Kanapoi region (1966-67) and subsequently on Lothagam (1967-72).
Between 1967 and 1976, the International Omo Expedition, which initially included French, American and Kenyan contingents, explored the southern Ethiopian Turkana Basin deposits. In 1968, the Kenyan contingent withdrew to prospect the Kenyan exposures on the northeastern shores of Lake Turkana. Thus began the Koobi Fora Research Project (KFRP), which has run the Kenyan Turkana Basin palaeoanthropological research since that time.
Fieldwork has been conducted in the region each year since 1968, concentrating on the eastern shores throughout the 1970s and moving to the western shores through the 1980s and 1990s. In the year 2000, the research team moved back to the western shores to continue the exploration of some of the richest and more significant sites; this initiative is ongoing. These research efforts have focused on both the eastern and western shores of Lake Turkana, and have provided an exceptional depth of understanding of the past geological and palaeoenvironmental history of the area.
The hominid fossil collection, which currently comprises several hundred specimens, has put Kenya firmly on the map as a key contributor to human evolution studies. Much of the fossil evidence for human evolution between 7 and 1 million years has been unearthed in the Turkana Basin. The hominids recovered include specimens Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus (sometimes referred to as Homo ergaster), Paranthropus boisei, Paranthropus aethiopicus, Australopithecus anamensis and Kenyanthropus platyops.