Using stable isotopes to explore ancient wildebeest mobility in the context of pastoral expansion

Author(s): Anneke Janzen; Patrick Roberts; Nicole Boivin

Year: 2017


The spread of pastoralism through Kenya may have been slowed by novel disease challenges presented to livestock by wild taxa. In particular, wildebeest-derived malignant catarrhal fever (WD-MCF), which is extremely fatal to cattle, would have been encountered by pastoralists for the first time as they moved south of the Lake Turkana Basin into the native range of East African wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus). Today, migratory wildebeest have well-known annual migration patterns. However, while they are currently not found north of Kenya’s Loita or Athi-Kapiti Plains, nor did early explorers describe them there, archaeological sites document their presence as far north as Lake Baringo until the second millennium BP. Pastoral extirpation of wildebeest populations from the prime grazing areas of the Central Rift Valley is one likely cause of their shifting biogeography over time. Stable isotope analysis is a powerful tool to examine ancient patterns of wildebeest distribution and mobility in the context of pastoral expansion. Through sequential sampling of wildebeest molars from Rift Valley archaeological sites spanning the mid to late Holocene for carbon, oxygen, and strontium isotope analysis, a history of their annual migration cycles as herders and their livestock spread throughout their native range may be documented.

Cite this Record

Using stable isotopes to explore ancient wildebeest mobility in the context of pastoral expansion. Anneke Janzen, Patrick Roberts, Nicole Boivin. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429923)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 13284