African Archaeological Review

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 345–362 | Cite as

Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction of Dongodien, Lake Turkana, Kenya and OSL Dating of Site Occupation During Late Holocene Climate Change

  • Gail M. AshleyEmail author
  • E. K. Ndiema
  • J. Q. G. Spencer
  • J. W. K. Harris
  • P. W. Kiura
  • L. Dibble
  • A. Du
  • P. T. Lordan
Original Article


Dongodien (GaJi4) is a sequence of sub-lacustrine, beach, and sub-aerial lake margin sediments of the Galana Boi Formation at Koobi Fora, Lake Turkana, Kenya. The sediments accumulated under a climate of increasing aridity in the latter African Humid Period. The section contains two archaeologically rich beds (Horizons B and A). Here, we present new optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates that are independently corroborated with C-14. The lower bed (Horizon B) has an OSL age of 4.14 ± 0.27 ka, supported by C-14 ages of 4.71 ± 0.13, 4.79 ± 0.08, and 4.70 ± 0.06 ka cal BP. The upper bed (Horizon A) has an OSL age of 2.34 ± 0.20 ka, consistent with that of site stratigraphy. In contrast to luminescence dating attempts elsewhere in the East African Rift System, quartz-OSL from this locality and sites FwJj5 and FwJj25 ~40 km NW has a dominant fast component and robust intrinsic characteristics. OSL confirms Dongodien recorded the first known appearance of pastoralism in East Africa; it lays within a tsetse-free corridor between northern and southern Africa. Interpretation of archaeologically rich horizons as beach deposits is consistent with published lake level curves and Holocene highstands. Archaeological material (obsidian microliths, Nderit pottery, wild and domestic mammal bones, fish bones) suggests mixtures of subsistence strategies (hunting-gathering, fishing, herding) as the climate became more arid. The site may have been chosen for reoccupation because of abundant fish associated with lacustrine upwelling near Koobi Fora, a cuspate foreland.


Luminescence dating East Africa Pastoralism Radiocarbon dating 


Le site de Dongodien (GaJi4) correspond à une séquence de sédiments de la marge du lac classifiables comme étant sous-lacustre, de plage, et sous-éolien. Typiques de la formation Galana Boi à Koobi Fora, au lac Turkana, au Kenya, ces sédiments se sont accumulés dans un contexte d’aridité croissante lors de la dernière période humide africaine. La section contient deux niveaux archéologiquement riches (horizons B & A). Nous présentons ici de nouveaux âges OSL, indépendamment confirmés par datation C-14. Le niveau inférieur (horizon B) présente un âge OSL de 4,23 ± 0,27 ka. Un résultat étayé par le C-14 qui présente des âges de 4,71 ± 0,13, 4,79 ± 0,08, et 4,70 ± 0,06 ka cal BP. Le niveau supérieur (horizon A) présente un âge de 2,34 ± 0,20 ka cohérent avec la stratigraphie du site. À la différence des tentatives de datation par luminescence entreprises ailleurs dans le rift Est-Africain, les résultats obtenus via la méthode quartz-OSL pour cette localité ainsi que les sites FwJj5 et FwJj25 (~40 km nord-ouest) ont une composante rapide dominante et des caractéristiques intrinsèques robustes. La méthode OSL confirme la première apparition connue du pastoralisme en Afrique de l’Est au cours du site de Dongodien le long d’un corridor dépourvu de mouches tsé-tsé entre l’Afrique septentrionale et méridionale. L’interprétation de ces horizons archéologiquement riches comme les dépôts de plage est. cohérente avec les courbes de niveaux du lac publiées et les hauts peuplements de l’Holocène. Le matériel archéologique (obsidiennes, poteries Nderit, os de mammifères domestiques et sauvages, os de poissons) suggère une diversification des stratégies de subsistance (chasse et cueillette, pêche, pastoralisme) à mesure que le climat devient aride. Ce site a peut-être été réinvesti par les populations en raison des abondantes ressources ichtyennes associées à la remontée des eaux près de Koobi Fora.



We appreciate the financial support from the National Museums of Kenya (Idle Farah, DG) through the Koobi Fora Field School and Wenner-Gren grant fellowship to E. Ndiema; an International Collaborative Research Grant from Wenner-Gren to J.W.K. Harris; and a grant from Climate and Environmental Change Initiative (CECI), Rutgers University, to G.M. Ashley and J.W.K. Harris. We thank James Wright and Richard Mortlock for stable isotope analyses. Sébastien Huot is thanked for the use of his Minimum Age Model spreadsheet and Jennifer Roozeboom for assistance with the OSL sample preparation. We are grateful to assistance in the field from Paul Watene, Tom Mukhuyu, and Ben Sila. Discussions with Birgit Keding, Emma Mbua, Carolyn Dillian, and David Braun were very helpful as we developed our model. Special thanks go to Jeremy Delaney for assistance with the preparation of the manuscript. All data were collected under a permit from the National Museums of Kenya (Dr. Idle Farah, Director). Hélène Avocat is thanked for French abstract translation. Two anonymous reviewers provided constructive and supportive comments that improved the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (DOCX 19 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gail M. Ashley
    • 1
    Email author
  • E. K. Ndiema
    • 2
    • 3
  • J. Q. G. Spencer
    • 4
  • J. W. K. Harris
    • 2
  • P. W. Kiura
    • 3
  • L. Dibble
    • 2
  • A. Du
    • 2
    • 5
  • P. T. Lordan
    • 1
  1. 1.Earth and Planetary SciencesRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA
  2. 2.AnthropologyRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  3. 3.Archaeology SectionNational Museums of KenyaNairobiKenya
  4. 4.Department of GeologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  5. 5.Center for Advanced Study of Human PaleobiologyGeorge Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

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