Living in a swampy paradise: Paleoenvironmental reconstruction of an African Humid Period lacustrine margin, West Turkana, Kenya
The African Humid Period (AHP), spanning ∼15-5 ka, was characterize across East Africa by increased precipitation. Wetter climate conditions created environments favorable to human occupation in what are today harsh, resource-limited places to inhabit. The Turkana Basin is a striking example of this. Throughout the AHP, lake levels intermittently rose ∼100 m establishing hydrologic connectivity from Lake Turkana into the Nile drainage system via an outlet to the northwest. This study presents new, high-resolution data from West Turkana outcrops of the Late Pleistocene/Holocene Galana Boi Formation. This research complements existing lake-level curves and allows for landscape reconstruction through lateral facies associations. The Kabua Gorge area contains both well-exposed stratigraphic sections and multiple archaeological sites to the north and west of the outcrops. This creates the opportunity to tie the archaeology closely to paleoenvironmental reconstructions from the geological record. The depositional environment is characterized by a dynamic fluctuating lake margin, consisting of at least four phases of inundation. Highstand Phase 4 is distinct within the Kabua Gorge sequence because it is comprised of black clay containing 2-10% total organic carbon, pedogenic overprinting, pedogenic carbonate nodules, and a diverse molluscan fauna. Deposition of this unit is indicative of an organic-rich, reducing lacustrine environment that was subsequently overprinted by pedogenesis. This unit grades laterally basinward from organic-rich paleosols to lacustrine silts characterized by abundant freshwater diatom taxa. By coupling sedimentology, diatom assemblage data, δ13C and δ18O isotope geochemistry of pedogenic carbonates, and a radiocarbon chronology for the area, the paleoenvironment of Kabua Gorge is interpreted as a shallow marshy embayment connected to the main body of a freshwater Lake Turkana. The landscape is a highly dynamic one, varying on a scale of 100s of meters. Sediments were deposited during periods of inundation and then pedogenically modified during brief periods of subaerial exposure to form Vertisols. Archaeological sites in the early part of the AHP at Kabua Gorge are closely associated in age with lacustrine highstands. Hence, we propose that the lagoonal marsh environment of Phase 4 would likewise have been a resource-rich area for human occupation during the AHP. Potential resources drawing humans to the area include access to fresh water and fishing grounds. Ultimately, understanding the paleoenvironmental dynamics at Kabua Gorge provides a window into the broader ecosystems in which humans culturally evolved from the Late Pleistocene to present.