+++ ICDP: Call for Proposals - Next Chance January 15, 2018 +++ Highlights and Updates Moved to the new ICDP Web Site +++

Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project



Hominid Site Drilling ProjectWe propose a drilling project to consider the scientific opportunities and technical challenges of obtaining sediment cores from several of the most important fossil hominin and early Paleolithic artifact sites in the world, located in Kenya and Ethiopia. Our objective will be to drill in near-continuous sedimentary sequences close to areas of critical importance for understanding hominin phylogeny, covering key time intervals for addressing questions about the role of environmental forcing in shaping human evolution. These sites are all currently on-land, but consist of thick lacustrine sedimentary sequences with high deposition rates. Therefore, the proposed sites combine the attributes of relatively low cost targets (in comparison with open water, deep lake sites) and the potential for long, highly continuous and informative paleoenvironmental records obtainable from lake beds.
Our objectives address questions of interest to both the earth science and anthropology communities, and represent an exciting new direction for continental drilling. They fall squarely within two of the ICDP mandates, investigating "The nature of critical interaction between the biosphere and the Earth's crust" and "The nature of the changing parameters that control the evolution and extinction of species". Because the largest number of critical events in hominin phylogeny occurred in Africa, we argue that such a drilling campaign should start in that continent. Drill cores of lacustrine strata, with their continuity and excellent preservation of organic matter, fossils and other archives that are frequently degraded in outcrops, will provide a vast improvement in our understanding of environmental history in the places and times where various species of hominins lived over currently available outcrop records. Obtaining such core records from the continental interiors will provide a spatially resolved record at the landscape scale, much more localized and temporally resolved than the regional/global climate signals preserved in deep sea core records, and in much closer proximity to the hominin sites than the current African deep lake records. The rationale for such a research program was defined at the 2005 NSF/DOSECC-funded conceptual workshop "Paleoclimates and Human Evolution".
In 2007-2008 the US NSF provided funds for detailed site and logistics surveys to be conducted in several promising areas in Ethiopia and Kenya
• The Awash River Valley-Ledi Geraru area, northern Afar area of Ethiopia (Pliocene)
• The West Turkana area, Kenya (Plio-Pleistocene)
• The Olorgesailie area, Kenya (Pleistocene)
• Lake Magadi, Kenya (Pleistocene)
The first three of these are world-renowned fossil hominin and archaeological sites, representative of key intervals in human evolutionary history. The fourth, while not a fossil site, is located very close to Olorgesailie and is included to address critical questions about both the paleoclimatic conditions during the emergence of Homo sapiens, and to understand the influence of local vs. regional environmental forcing on evolutionary history in the southern Kenya rift valley.
A subsequent ICDP/NSF-funded workshop, held in Addis Ababa in November 2008, considered these and other potential drilling targets, their potential for addressing the broader scientific goals of the project, and the logistical issues related to drilling on-land targets in East Africa. At this meeting it was decided to solicit additional suggestions from the science community for potential drilling targets which meet the three criteria of 1) addressing important science questions in human origins, 2) encompassing a long and continuous paleolake stratigraphic sequence that could provide a high resolution paleoclimate record at the site, and 3) being logistically feasible at a realistic cost for a continental drilling project. A call for site suggestions was issued shortly after the workshop (see top of home page). Specialty working groups for science issues were also developed in breakout sessions at the workshop. The site selection finally ended up in: TH - Tugen Hills, WT - West Turkana, LM - Lake Magadi, all in Kenya, and CB - Chew Bahir, NA - Northern Awash, both in Ethiopia.



Africa, Eastern Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eastern Rift Valley



0° 38' N, 36° 5' E (Please scroll down to end of page for more information.)


Project Start and End
  • drilling operations are planned for June 2013 to January 2014
    Tugen Hills - June 1, 2013
    Western Turkana - June 21, 2013
    Chew Bahir - November 1, 2013
    Northern Awash - January 8, 2014
    Lake Magadi - TBD


Programs and Funding


Principal Investigators
  • Andrew S. Cohen, University of Arizona, Department of Earth Science
  • J. Ramón Arrowsmith, Arizona State University, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Active Tectonics, Quantitative Structural Geology and Geomorphology
  • Asfawossen Asrat, University of Addis Ababa, School of Earth Sciences
  • Anna Kay Behrensmeyer, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Paleobiology
  • Christopher J. Campisano, Arizona State University, Institute of Human Origins
  • Craig Stratton Feibel, Rutgers University, Wright Labs, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • Shimeles Fisseha, University of Addis Ababa
  • Roy A. Johnson, University of Arizona, Department of Earth Science
  • John Kingston, University of Michigan, Department of Anthropology
  • Henry F. Lamb, University of Wales at Aberystwyth, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences
  • Emma Mbua, National Museums of Kenya, Department of Paleoanthropology
  • Daniel Ochieng Olago, University of Nairobi, Department of Geology
  • Richard Bernhart (Bernie) Owen, Hong Kong Baptist University, Department of Geography
  • Richard Potts, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropology
  • Robin W. Renaut, University of Saskatchewan, Department of Geological Sciences
  • Frank Schäbitz, University of Colorado at Arvada, Energy and Minerals Applied Research Center
  • Jean Jacques Tiercelin, Université de Rennes 1, Géosciences Rennes, UMR 6118
  • Martin H. Trauth, University of Potsdam, Institute of Earth and Environmental Science
  • Mohammed Umer (?), University of Addis Ababa, School of Earth Sciences
  • Giday WoldeGabriel, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Earth and Environmental Sciences Division


Cooperating Principal Investigators
  • Alan L. Deino, Berkeley Geochronology Center
  • Andrew Hill (?), Yale University, Department of Anthropology
  • Tim K. Lowenstein, State University of New York, Binghamton University, Department of Geological Sciences and Environmental Studies
  • Jonathan Wynn, University of South Florida at Tampa, Department of Geology


Partners and Contractors



African Rift, Climate Dynamics, East Africa, Ethiopia, Global Environment, Hominin Evolution, HSPDP, ICDP-2010/04, Kenya, MAGADI, Paleoclimate


Current State
  • drilling operations are ongoing




    Google Earth/Maps