Eastern Africa is home to the largest terrestrial migrations on Earth. Though these migratory systems have been well studied for decades, little is known of their antiquity and evolutionary history. Serially sampled strontium stable isotopes (87Sr/86Sr) from tooth enamel can be used to track migration in mammals. Here we analyse 87Sr/86Sr for 79 bovid and equid individuals representing 18 species from four localities in Kenya to characterize prehistoric migratory systems during the Last Glacial Period (115-11.7 ka). Of the species analysed, 16 lack definitive evidence for migration, including blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), Thomson's gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii) and plains zebra (Equus quagga), which are long-distance migrants today in the Greater Serengeti Ecosystem and historically in the Athi-Kapiti Plains. Only two species, the extinct wildebeests Rusingoryx atopocranion and Megalotragus sp., were migratory. These findings suggest a possible alternative narrative about ecosystem dynamics during the Last Glacial Period and shed light on the behaviour of both extant and extinct species at this time. In particular, these results indicate that migratory behaviour in extant species either emerged during the Holocene or was more spatiotemporally constrained in the past. Our results contribute to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the structure and function of geologically recent large mammal communities in eastern Africa differed considerably from those observed in the present day.

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