Turkana Basin Institute


Support Scientific Research & Exploration in the Turkana Basin of Northern Kenya


Turkana Basin Institute

In 2005, Richard Leakey outlined to Stony Brook University his concept for an institute that could provide the permanent infrastructure to enable year-round research in this remote area of sub-Saharan Africa. The University enthusiastically endorsed the idea of TBI, committing funds for the Stony Brook end of the project.  Additional fundraising began in 2006; construction of temporary facilities for a long-term field camp on the east side of Lake Turkana (TBI-Ileret) commenced in 2007; the camp was fully operational by year-end and was the site for the first Kenya-based Human Evolution Workshop in 2008. Construction of the first full field center on the west side of the lake (TBI-Turkwel) was completed in 2012. Construction of permanent facilities at TBI-Ileret commenced in 2012, and was completed in 2016.
Formally, Turkana Basin Institute, Ltd. is the title holder for the fixed assets in Kenya known as TBI-Nairobi, TBI-Turkwel and TBI-Ileret (together known as “TBI Kenya”) and is under an agreement with the Government of Kenya, through the National Museums of Kenya, to serve as a repository for the archaeological and paleontological heritage of the Lake Turkana region.
In 2013, Richard Leakey and Stony Brook University President, Samuel L. Stanley, established the TBI International Advisory Board.  Comprised of prominent philanthropists and scientists from around the globe, this group meets twice a year to share ideas and discuss how best to ensure the success and secure the mission of the Institute.  This dynamic group has assumed a lead role in TBI’s fundraising efforts through their own generous contributions.

Project Details & Background

The Turkana Basin region is a source of unprecedented fossil and archaeological evidence for all major stages of human development. This is the place where our story is written. Every human being alive today shares DNA inherited from a common ancestral population that we currently believe lived in or within a few hundred miles of the Turkana Basin, about 60-70,000 years ago.

Currently, research projects in the Basin are investigating an enormous range of questions about the ancient inhabitants in and around Lake Turkana, including Cretaceous period vertebrates such as dinosaurs and crocodilians; the origins of modern African megafauna; the evolution of Miocene apes; ancestry of the hominid lineage in Africa; the origins of our own genus Homo; the diversification and spread of modern humans in the last 250,000 years; and the transition to pastoralism, fishing, and agriculture.

Stony Brook University & TBI

Stony Brook University serves as the academic base affiliated with the Turkana Basin Institute.  It provides facilities and support for lecture series, symposia, outreach, and fundraising activities; an academic home for graduate and postdoctoral students from both America and Africa; and Internet library access for the research centers at Turkana.
For nearly three decades Stony Brook has been an international center of excellence in research and training in paleontology and paleoanthropology, specifically in the areas of primate and human evolution. Stony Brook faculty have research programs all over the world and are repeatedly recognized as international leaders in the field.  The Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences, which draws faculty from many departments on campus including Anatomical Sciences, Anthropology, Ecology and Evolution, and Geosciences, has been recognized as the premier program in the country based on faculty scholarly productivity in several studies during the past decade.  The program has placed its graduates in the best postdoctoral and faculty positions in the world.
With the addition of Drs. Richard, Meave, and Louise Leakey to the Stony Brook faculty, and the establishment of the Turkana Basin Institute, there is now an extraordinary opportunity to integrate Stony Brook’s strengths in academic research and education with the Leakeys’ renowned experience and history of field research in East Africa.
The director of the Turkana Basin Institute is Lawrence Martin. He coordinates Turkana Basin Institute activities at Stony Brook, including recruitment, hiring, and evaluation of Institute faculty and postdoctoral researchers; development of facilities; and responsibility for communicating the Institute’s fundraising priorities. Subsequent directors of the Turkana Basin Institute will be appointed by the president of Stony Brook University in consultation with the Institute’s board of trustees.

The Importance of the Turkana Basin

The Turkana Basin region is a source of unprecedented fossil and archaeological evidence for all major stages of human development. This is the place where our story is written. Every human being alive today shares DNA inherited from a common ancestral population that we currently believe lived in or within a few hundred miles of the Turkana Basin, about 60-70,000 years ago.

It is an unparalleled window into the past. Within its 7,000 square miles of exposed surface area, rich fossil layers encapsulate major evolutionary events from the Mesozoic era to the present. To the northwest, in exposures throughout the Labur mountain range, a diverse collection of dinosaur and other reptilian vertebrate fossils have been discovered, including carnivorous therapods, herbivorous sauropods, and flying pterosaurs. Early Miocene sites on the northeast side of the lake document the evolution of elephants, rhinoceroses, carnivores, giraffes, pigs, and, notably, the ancestors of old world monkeys and apes shortly after the two diverged. Miocene-age exposures immediately west of the lake have yielded a trove of fossils which have proven critical to understanding the evolution of our own ape ancestors.

It was on the east side of the lake, in the Koobi Fora area, where Richard and Meave Leakey and their colleagues launched their incredible series of groundbreaking hominin discoveries that would form much of the evidence we have for human evolution, expanding later to sites on the west side of the lake which yielded Kenyanthropus platyops and Australopithecus anamensis, the oldest-known hominin to date. Archaeological expeditions in the Turkana Basin have yielded the world’s oldest stone tools. And in sites throughout the region we see the emergence of modern Homo sapiens. Truly, the potential for new, important scientific discoveries in the Turkana Basin is as vast as the region itself.

The Team

Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist, Conservationist, Politician, Founder


Dr. Richard E. Leakey is a Kenyan paleoanthropologist, conservationist, and politician. Leakey has held a number of official positions in Kenya, mostly in institutions of archaeology and wildlife conservation. He has been Director of the National Museum of Kenya and head of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, and he founded the NGO WildlifeDirect, the Turkana Basin Institute, and Ngaren: The Museum of Humankind.

Lawrence Martin

Director of the Turkana Basin Institute


Martin has been at the heart of TBI activities since its creation in 2005, and has worked closely with Richard Leakey on fundraising, developing a field school, developing a self-sustaining business plan for TBI in Kenya, developing an internationally renowned series of workshops, and developing inter-institutional collaborations in education and science facilitated by TBI.

Prior to assuming his administrative role, Martin built an impressive record of both field-based and laboratory research and scholarship in physical anthropology and is regarded as one of the leading authorities on the evolution of apes and the origin of humans. 


Am I donating to TBI or to the Terra Conservation Initiative?

Your donation will go to Terra Conservation Initiative to support TBI and other TCI conservation organizations.

Is my donation tax-deductible?

Yes, Terra Conservation Initiative (TCI) is a program sponsored by Ngaren, a 501(c)(3) organization.

Is the Turkana Basin Institute related to Ngaren Museum of Humankind in any capacity?

Not at present, but it is Richard Leakey’s intention to link the two upon completion of construction of the museum.