Koobi lecture

The Koobi Fora Field School is designed to introduce students to the science of paleoanthropology, the sub-discipline of anthropology focused on the study of human origins. We utilize differentiated instructional methods to make this material relevant to all students who participate. Traditional teaching methods such as formal reading assignments and lectures are integrated into a program of structured field exercises and actual paleoanthropological research. We believe that much can be achieved by students when much is expected and therefore all exercises involve written assignments which are graded and critiqued as the field school proceeds.


After a one-day orientation conducted in the National Museum in Nairobi, the field school travels to a private “game ranch” where the students camp at a remote location and spend one-week experiencing life on the African savanna. The students are divided into small groups and are exposed to many of the sub-disciplines of paleoanthropology. Formal exercises in botany, taphonomy, geologic stratigraphy, archaeological survey and wildlife ecology (each with a written assignment) provide background and context for the work to follow. Once at Koobi Fora the students become immersed in all the exciting aspects of paleontological field work. Formal lectures continue and are accompanied by individual instruction in faunal analysis, lithic analysis, hominin evolution, and methods of field survey and excavation. Throughout the time at Koobi Fora, the students are required to maintain a detailed field notebook. Final grades are assigned based on student participation in all field school activities, the graded exercises, the grade on the student field notebook, and a comprehensive final exam (two hour practical and two-hour essay). The following describes the field school activities in more detail.

Core Pedagogical Tenents and Practices:

  1. Providing students with the opportunity to receive reinforcement of fundamental paleoanthropological and archaeological knowledge and skills through the use of multi-faceted teaching methods,
  2. stressing the importance and integral role of field research (on both student and project levels), and
  3. presenting the disciplines of paleoanthropology and archeology as relevant scientific endeavors with many sub-fields and exciting areas that students can pursue in their future educational endeavors.

The utility and role of field-based training in ecology, geology, archaeology and other fields are broadly known. Field schools, by definition, have a different teaching methodology than more traditional academic settings. Research, academic instruction, and field training in field-based programs are essential to program components. This course integrates lecture, laboratory, and field training as a deliberative and unambiguous teaching methodology. The program is designed to include daily hands-on work, a series of basic and fundamental lectures, specialized laboratory exercises, and “one-on-one” work with both senior researchers and a well-trained group of instructors. Through this combination of learning opportunities in this remote and remarkable “classroom” students receive an intense and unforgettable learning experience.

The Student Experience

An often overlooked yet important teaching consideration is that interaction with world-class researchers provides students with a broad group of individuals to draw upon for mentoring and for help with specialized research projects. Opportunities to discuss ideas and applications are essential for reinforcing knowledge and fostering relationships between students and researchers that can form the basis for lifelong interests and learning. It provides students with the confidence to pursue specialized studies in paleoanthropology. Many students tell us they come to the field school to determine the area of paleoanthropology they want to concentrate on for graduate school. The field school setting lets them see first-hand the work involved and allows them unfettered access to people who are already working in these fields. This is invaluable for students who are considering a career in these fields.



Throughout the field training, there are several field laboratory sessions. This includes stone tool manufacture, lithic analysis, plant taxonomy, mapping, faunal analysis and geology labs that students need to complete as part of the course.


  1. One week ecology session at a game park in central Kenya with instructional sessions focused on modern day processes as analogs for past processes.
  2. There will be multiple visits to archaeological sites during the sessions at the Koobi Fora Base Camp teaching facility. During these visits lectures that will be offered about the hominid species, archaeology and environmental context of the sites within the overall Pleistocene archaeological record.
  3. Students are required to maintain a field notebook which should contain a field diary, lecture notes, drawings, assignments and other material related to the course.

Course Objectives

  • To expand on students’ basic paleoanthropology knowledge by providing them with an up-to-date understanding of hominid adaptation so that they can identify, explain, and historically contextualize critical issues, concepts, and central questions of hominid paleoanthropology.
  • To provide students with knowledge of the key sites associated with hominid evolution in East Africa so that students develop a chronological and geographic understanding of hominid adaptation from bipedal origins through the development of anatomically modern humans. Students are expected to be able to write coherent and well thought out essay answers that cite specific site and fossil details in support of their theoretical positions.
  • To enable students to synthesize anatomical and physiological insights provided by the fossil hominids remains together with the archaeological (material) traces. Students should be able to articulate and discuss how anatomy and technology covary within the hominid record.
  • Critical to understanding Human past is the physical environmental background (climatic and paleogeographic) within regional and site-specific scales, therefore one of the goals of the course is for students will be able to place the hominid record within contextual environmental settings. Environmental contexts include establishing the chronological framework for data the hominin and archaeological finds, e.g. stratigraphy, radiometric dating, and paleo magnetism.
  • To facilitate discussion on the behavior of our biological family so that students can critically evaluate various explanatory frameworks within Paleoanthropology.
  • To provide students with a detailed and extensive knowledge of the skeletal anatomy of mammalian fauna. Students are expected to be able to identify anatomical elements.
  • To provide students with a chronology of prehistoric stone tool technology and to introduce lithic analysis methodology. Students should develop an understanding of stone tool technology, analytical methods, and techniques used to understand stone tool use and function.
  • To establish background knowledge on the modern ecology (plant and animal) of savannas and arid lands, geological landforms, dessert hydrology, and sedimentary process. Students should be able to identify landforms, depositional processes, animal and plant communities, and to understand key ecological concepts.


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