Human evolutionary scholars have long supposed that the earliest stone tools were made by the genus Homo and that this technological development was directly linked to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands. New fieldwork in West Turkana, Kenya, has identified evidence of much earlier hominin technological behaviour. We report the discovery of Lomekwi 3, a 3.3-million-year-old archaeological site where in situ stone artefacts occur in spatiotemporal association with Pliocene hominin fossils in a wooded palaeoenvironment. The Lomekwi 3 knappers, with a developing understanding of stone’s fracture properties, combined core reduction with battering activities. Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution and technological origins, we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    , & A new species of the genus Homo from Olduvai Gorge. Nature 202, 7–9 (1964).

  2. 2.

    Cultural beginnings: Plio-Pleistocene archaeological occurrences from the Afar Rift, Ethiopia. Afr. Archaeol. Rev. 1, 3–31 (1983).

  3. 3.

    et al. Pedogenic carbonate stable isotopic evidence for wooded habitat preference of early Pleistocene tool makers in the Turkana Basin. J. Hum. Evol. 65, 65–78 (2013).

  4. 4.

    & The expansion of grassland ecosystems in Africa in relation to mammalian evolution and the origin of the genus Homo. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 207, 399–420 (2004).

  5. 5.

    & Découverte d’une industrie lithique ancienne in situ dans la formation d'Hadar, Afar central, Ethiopie. C. R. Acad. Sci. Paris D 284, 1871–1874 (1977).

  6. 6.

    et al. 2.5-million-year-old stone tools from Gona, Ethiopia. Nature 385, 333–336 (1997).

  7. 7.

    et al. First occurrence of early Homo in the Nachukui Formation (West Turkana, Kenya) at 2.3–2.4 Myr. J. Hum. Evol. 49, 230–240 (2005).

  8. 8.

    et al. Late Pliocene Homo and Oldowan tools from the Hadar formation (Kada Hadar member), Ethiopia. J. Hum. Evol. 31, 549–561 (1996).

  9. 9.

    , & Evolution of early Homo: An integrated biological perspective. Science 345, 1236828 (2014).

  10. 10.

    , , & Older than the Oldowan? Rethinking the emergence of hominin tool use. Evol. Anthropol. 11, 235–245 (2002).

  11. 11.

    , & in The First Humans — Origin and Early Evolution of the Genus Homo (eds Grine, F. E., Fleagle, J. G. & Leakey, R. E.) 135–147 (Springer, 2009).

  12. 12.

    et al. 2.6-Million-year-old stone tools and associated bones from OGS-6 and OGS-7, Gona, Afar, Ethiopia. J. Hum. Evol. 45, 169–177 (2003).

  13. 13.

    Geological summary of the Busidima Formation (Plio-Pleistocene) at the Hadar paleoanthropological site, Afar Depression, Ethiopia. J. Hum. Evol. 62, 338–352 (2012).

  14. 14.

    Omo revisited: evaluating the technological skills of Pliocene hominids. Curr. Anthropol. 45, 439–465 (2004).

  15. 15.

    et al. Early hominid stone tool production and technical skill 2.34 Myr ago in West Turkana, Kenya. Nature 399, 57–60 (1999).

  16. 16.

    & Late Pliocene hominid knapping skills: the case of Lokalalei 2C, West Turkana, Kenya. J. Hum. Evol. 48, 435–472 (2005).

  17. 17.

    , , & Technological variation in the earliest Oldowan from Gona, Afar, Ethiopia. J. Hum. Evol. 58, 474–491 (2010).

  18. 18.

    in Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Oldowan (eds Hovers, E. & Braun, D. R) 85–97 (Springer, 2009).

  19. 19.

    & Raw material selectivity in Late Pliocene Oldowan sites in the Makaamitalu Basin, Hadar, Ethiopia. J. Hum. Evol. 62, 353–366 (2012).

  20. 20.

    et al. Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature 466, 857–860 (2010).

  21. 21.

    & Percussion tools in Olduvai Beds I and II (Tanzania): implications for early human activities. J. Anthropol. Archaeol. 24, 179–192 (2005).

  22. 22.

    , , , & Were Olduvai hominins making butchering or battering tools? Analysis of a recently excavated lithic assemblage from BK (Bed II, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania). J. Anthropol. Archaeol. 28, 274–289 (2009).

  23. 23.

    & Percussion marks on bone surfaces as a new diagnostic of hominid behaviour. Nature 333, 763–765 (1988).

  24. 24.

    & in Stone Knapping: the Necessary Conditions for a Uniquely Hominin Behavior (eds Roux, V. & Brill, B.) 341–350 (Cambridge McDonald Institute, 2005).

  25. 25.

    , , & Chaînes opératoires and resource-exploitation strategies in chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) nut cracking. J. Hum. Evol. 55, 148–163 (2008).

  26. 26.

    , & Stratigraphy and paleontology of Pliocene and Pleistocene localities west of Lake Turkana, Kenya. Contr. Sci. Nat. Mus. Los Angeles 399, 1–128 (1988).

  27. 27.

    et al. New hominin genus from eastern Africa shows diverse middle Pliocene lineages. Nature 410, 433–440 (2001).

  28. 28.

    & The Omo-Turkana Basin fossil hominins and their contribution to our understanding of human evolution in Africa. Evol. Anthropol. 20, 264–292 (2011).

  29. 29.

    & Geochronology of the pre-KBS Tuff sequence, Turkana Basin. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 165, 549–562 (2008).

  30. 30.

    et al. New single crystal 40Ar/39Ar ages improve time scale for deposition of the Omo Group, Omo-Turkana Basin, East Africa. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 169, 213–226 (2012).

  31. 31.

    , , , & The Neogene Period. A Geological Time Scale 2004 (eds Gradstein, F. M., Ogg, J. G. & Smith, A. G.) 409–440 (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

  32. 32.

    et al. Woody cover and hominin environments in the past 6 million years. Nature 476, 51–56 (2011).

  33. 33.

    et al. Paleoenvironments of the earliest stone toolmakers, Gona, Ethiopia. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 116, 1529–1544 (2004).

  34. 34.

    An introduction to flintworking. Part 1. An introduction to the technology of stone tools. Occasional Papers of the Idaho State University Museum 28, (Idaho State Univ. Museum, 1972).

  35. 35.

    , , & Le débitage sur enclume aux Bosses (Lamagdalaine, Lot, France). Paleo (special issue). 49–62 (2010).

  36. 36.

    et al. New insights into hominin lithic activities at FLK North Bed I, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Quat. Res. 74, 376–387 (2010).

  37. 37.

    & A technological analysis of non-flaked stone tools in Olduvai Beds I & II. Stressing the relevance of percussion activities in the African Lower Pleistocene. Paleo (special issue). 13–34 (2010).

  38. 38.

    Enclumes (percuteurs dormants) associées à l'Acheuléen supérieur de l'Ougartien (Oued Farès, Sahara occidental). Bull. Soc. Préhist. Fr. 60, 43–47 (1963).

  39. 39.

    Olduvai Gorge, Vol. 3. Excavations in Beds I and II 1960–1963 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1971).

  40. 40.

    et al. 4,300-year-old chimpanzee sites and the origins of percussive stone technology. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 3043–3048 (2007).

  41. 41.

    & Flexibility of wild chimpanzee nut-cracking behavior using stone hammers and anvils: an experimental analysis. Ethology 87, 237–248 (1991).

  42. 42.

    et al. Primate archaeology. Nature 460, 339–344 (2009).

  43. 43.

    , , & Use of stone hammer tools and anvils by bearded capuchin monkeys over time and space: construction of an archeological record of tool use. J. Archaeol. Sci. 40, 3222–3232 (2013).

  44. 44.

    in Great Ape Societies (eds McGrew, W. et al.) 196–209 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996).

  45. 45.

    in Essays Presented to C. G. Seligman (eds Evans-Pritchard, E. E., Firth, R. Malinowski, B. & Schapera, I.) 143–146 (K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1934).

  46. 46.

    The origins of stone tool technology in Africa: a historical perspective. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 366, 1028–1037 (2011).

  47. 47.

    Lithic modes A-I: a new framework for describing global-scale variation in stone tool technology illustrated with evidence from the East Mediterranean Levant. J. Archaeol. Method Theory 20, 151–186 (2013).

  48. 48.

    in Origins of Human Innovation and Creativity (ed. Elias, S.) 51–68 (Elsevier, 2012).

  49. 49.

    , & in The Oldowan: Case Studies into the Earliest Stone Age (eds Toth, N. & Schick, K. D.) 155–222 (Stone Age Institute Press, 2006).

  50. 50.

    in Hominidae: Proc. 2nd Intl Congr. Human Paleontol. 1987 189–195 (Jaca Books, 1989).

  51. 51.

    The least-squares line and plane and the analysis of palaeomagnetic data. Geophys. J. Int. 62, 699–718 (1980).

  52. 52.

    The vegetation of Africa, a descriptive memoir to accompany the UNESCO/AETFAT/UNSO vegetation map of Africa. UNESCO. Nat. Resour. Res. 20, 1–356 (1983).

  53. 53.

    & Carbon and oxygen isotopic variability in Neogene paleosol carbonates: constraints on the evolution of the C4-grasslands of the Great Plains, USA. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 207, 305–329 (2004).

  54. 54.

    , , , & Isotopic evidence for Plio-Pleistocene environmental change at Gona, Ethiopia. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 219, 93–110 (2004).

  55. 55.

    Compilation of East Africa soil carbonate stable isotope data. Integrated Earth Data Applications (2013).

  56. 56.

    , & An isotopic study of a fluvial-lacustrine sequence: the Plio-Pleistocene Koobi Fora sequence, East Africa. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 63, 335–356 (1988).

  57. 57.

    , , , & Paleosol carbonates from the Omo Group: isotopic records of local and regional environmental change in East Africa. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 307 75–89 (2011) CrossRef.

  58. 58.

    Influence of Plio-Pleistocene aridification on human evolution: evidence from paleosols from the Turkana Basin, Kenya. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 123, 106–118 (2004).

  59. 59.

    Stable isotopic evidence for hominid paleoenvironments in East Africa. Ph.D. Thesis, Harvard Univ. (1992).

  60. 60.

    , & Hominid environments at Hadar from paleosol studies in a framework of Ethiopian climate change. J. Hum. Evol. 55, 532–550 (2008).

  61. 61.

    et al. Geological and palaeontological context of a Pliocene juvenile hominin at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature 443, 332–336 (2006).

  62. 62.

    , & In The Cutting Edge: New Approaches to the Archaeology of Human Origins (eds Schick, K. D. & Toth, N.) 211–246 (Stone Age Institute Press, 2009).

  63. 63.

    In The Cutting Edge: New Approaches to the Archaeology of Human Origins (eds Schick, K. D. & Toth, N.) 137–150 (Stone Age Institute Press, 2009).

  64. 64.

    & Technological Strategies in the Lower Pleistocene at Olduvai Beds I & II. ERAUL 112. (2005).

Download references


We thank the office of the President of Kenya, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST/RCD/12B/012/25) and the National Museums of Kenya for permission to conduct research. Funding was provided by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (N°681/DGM/ATT/RECH, N°986/DGM/DPR/PRG), the French National Research Agency (ANR-12-CULT-0006), the Fondation Fyssen, the National Geographic Society (Expeditions Council #EC0569-12), the Rutgers University Research Council and Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, and INTM Indigo Group France. We thank the Turkana Basin Institute and Total Kenya Limited for logistical support and the GeoEye Foundation for satellite imagery; the Turkana communities from Nariokotome, Kokiselei and Katiko for field assistance, and the 2011-12 WTAP team, S. Kahinju, P. Egolan, L. P. Martin, D. Massika, B. K. Mulwa S. M. Musyoka, A. Mutisiya, J. Mwambua, F. M. Wambua, M. Terrade, A. Weiss, R. Benitez, S. Feibel. M. Leakey and F. Spoor supplied information on hominin fossils, and I. de la Torre and E. Hovers provided lithic assemblage data. We are very grateful to A. Brooks, I. de la Torre, J. Shea, R. Klein and M. Leakey for comments on earlier drafts. We also thank the Zoller & Fröhlich GmbH company, Ch. Fröhlich and M. Reinköster, Autodesk and Faro (T. O’Mahoney, K. Almeida Warren and T. Gichunge) for technical support with scanning and J. P. Chirey for photographic assistance.

Author information


  1. Turkana Basin Institute, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794-4364, USA

    • Sonia Harmand
    • , Jason E. Lewis
    •  & Louise Leakey
  2. CNRS, UMR 7055, Préhistoire et Technologie, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, 21 allée de l’Université, 92023 Nanterre Cedex, France

    • Sonia Harmand
    • , Adrian Arroyo
    • , Nicholas Taylor
    •  & Hélène Roche
  3. West Turkana Archaeological Project, P.O. Box 40658-00100, Ngara Rd, Nairobi, Kenya

    • Sonia Harmand
    • , Jason E. Lewis
    • , Craig S. Feibel
    • , Christopher J. Lepre
    • , Sandrine Prat
    • , Arnaud Lenoble
    • , Xavier Boës
    • , Rhonda L. Quinn
    • , Nicholas Taylor
    • , Sophie Clément
    • , Jean-Philip Brugal
    • , Sammy Lokorodi
    • , Christopher Kirwa
    •  & Hélène Roche
  4. Department of Anthropology and Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA

    • Jason E. Lewis
    •  & Craig S. Feibel
  5. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854, USA

    • Craig S. Feibel
    • , Christopher J. Lepre
    • , Rhonda L. Quinn
    • , Richard A. Mortlock
    • , James D. Wright
    •  & Dennis V. Kent
  6. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Christopher J. Lepre
    •  & Dennis V. Kent
  7. CNRS, UPR 2147, Dynamique de l’Evolution Humaine, 44 rue de l’Amiral Mouchez, 75014 Paris, France

    • Sandrine Prat
    •  & Xavier Boës
  8. CNRS, UMR 5199 PACEA, Université de Bordeaux, 33615 Pessac, France

    • Arnaud Lenoble
    •  & Michel Brenet
  9. Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey 07079, USA

    • Rhonda L. Quinn
  10. Inrap, Centre Mixte de Recherche Archéologique, Domaine de Campagne, 24620 Campagne, France

    • Michel Brenet
  11. Inrap, 34-36 avenue Paul-Vaillant Couturier, 93120 La Courneuve, France

    • Sophie Clément
  12. IPHEP, Institut de Paléoprimatologie, Paléontologie Humaine: Évolution et Paléoenvironnements, CNRS, UMR 7262, Université de Poitiers, Bât. B35 – TSA 51106, 6 rue Michel Brunet, 86073 Poitiers Cedex 9, France

    • Guillaume Daver
  13. Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, MCC, UMR 7269, LAMPEA, 13094 Aix-en-Provence Cedex 2, France

    • Jean-Philip Brugal
  14. National Museums of Kenya, Department of Earth Sciences, Archaeology Section, P.O. Box 40658-00100 Ngara Rd, Nairobi, Kenya

    • Christopher Kirwa


  1. Search for Sonia Harmand in:

  2. Search for Jason E. Lewis in:

  3. Search for Craig S. Feibel in:

  4. Search for Christopher J. Lepre in:

  5. Search for Sandrine Prat in:

  6. Search for Arnaud Lenoble in:

  7. Search for Xavier Boës in:

  8. Search for Rhonda L. Quinn in:

  9. Search for Michel Brenet in:

  10. Search for Adrian Arroyo in:

  11. Search for Nicholas Taylor in:

  12. Search for Sophie Clément in:

  13. Search for Guillaume Daver in:

  14. Search for Jean-Philip Brugal in:

  15. Search for Louise Leakey in:

  16. Search for Richard A. Mortlock in:

  17. Search for James D. Wright in:

  18. Search for Sammy Lokorodi in:

  19. Search for Christopher Kirwa in:

  20. Search for Dennis V. Kent in:

  21. Search for Hélène Roche in:


S.H. and J.E.L. directed field research and co-wrote the overall paper. C.S.F., C.J.L., A.L. and X.B. recorded sedimentological and stratigraphic data, conducted geological mapping, and wrote sections of the paper. C.S.F. interpreted tephra data. C.J.L. interpreted paleomagnetic data. S.P., J.-Ph.B., S.L., C.K. and L.L. conducted paleontological survey. S.P., J.-Ph.B. and L.L. analysed and interpreted fossil material. L.L. directed scanning of artefacts. S.P. laser scanned artefacts and excavation surfaces, and wrote sections of the paper. R.L.Q. interpreted isotopic data and wrote sections of the paper. C.S.F., C.J.L., R.L.Q., R.A.M., J.D.W. and D.V.K. analysed geological samples. G.D. developed protocols for tool replication experiments and wrote sections of the paper. S.H., H.R., N.T., M.B., S.C., S.L. and C.K. conducted archaeological survey and excavation. S.H., H.R., A.A., N.T. and M.B. analysed and interpreted lithic material and wrote sections of the paper. M.B. performed lithic replication experiments. S.C. provided spatial data. S.L. discovered the LOM3 site.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Sonia Harmand or Jason E. Lewis.

Extended data

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary Tables 1-3 and Supplementary References.

About this article

Publication history





Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.