Enkapune ya Muto, also known as the ‘Twilight Cave’, is an intriguing site whose many layers of time have trapped such spectacular ancient knowledge. Today, it is said to contain the oldest known archaeological horizons spanning the transition.
Here, layers dating as far back as the start of the late stone age, around 40,000 years ago, until as recently as the Neolithic age, 1,300 years ago have been discovered.
At Enkapune ya Muto, there is evidence which indicates that modern behaviour, which relates to microlithic tools, the manufacture of beads, the use of pigment, long-distance transport of materials and other practices, may not have been abrupt as previously thought.
This behaviour, it seems, may have been gradual and originated on the African continent more than elsewhere in the world. It appears that these perforated ostrich eggshell beads, which date to about 40,000 years, besides being used as ornamental items, may have also been exchanged as gift tokens. This makes them the earliest known form of symbolism.
Their discovery at Enkapune ya Muto on the Mau Escarpment, west of Lake Naivasha, was a watershed moment for archaeology because it indicated that culture, as we know it, did begin way earlier than previously thought.
The fact that people were intelligent enough to think up such works of art, was groundbreaking. Other archaeological items recovered at the site include animal remains and bifacially ﬂaked stone tools as well as microliths.
Enkapune ya Muto was first excavated in the 1980s by Stanley Ambrose. He found 5 to 6 M of thick deposits from occupations dating back 40,000 years ago. At the site worked ostrich egg shells, including 13 complete beads, 12 bead preforms and 593 bead fragments were discovered at the site.
The simple beads, laboriously crafted from ostrich eggshell discovered at the site suggest that people in eastern Africa, at this time, had achieved cognitive capacities beyond those of any earlier human population, in Africa or anywhere else.
This is very striking because it means our evolutionary success and the rich array of cultures from later times may have depended not so much on physical qualities or intimidating weapons but more on the intellectual capacity to conceive, create and communicate in symbols. This is definitely a place you will want to visit, especially if history, culture and archaeology are your thing.