A team of Paleontologists has discovered undisputed early remains of modern man very close to the city of Nairobi. Kantis, a new Paleontological site dated to 3.5 million years old is located on the shoulders of the Gregory Rift Valley a few kilometres from Nairobi and has yielded an early human species (of modern man) classified as Australopithecus afarensis.
Breaking the news to media and the world on Thursday, the lead senior research scientist of the find Dr Emma Mbua said: “The discovery of this species at Kantis Fossil Site is the first undisputed evidence in Kenya, which extends the geographical range of Australopithecus afarensis to the highlands of Kenya.”
The discovery was recently published in Journal of Human Evolution, Elsevier, (online version) in March 2016.
The research was undertaken by a consortium of scholars that comprises Kenyans, Americans Japanese and French scientists, coordinated by Dr Mbua who is also a senior lecturer at Mount Kenya University, and a senior research associate at the National Museums of Kenya.
The Kantis find, she said, extends the geographical range of the A. afarensis species away from the greater Rift valley systems and suggests the species found suitable habitats on the Kenyan highlands away from the valley.
“Kantis ancient mammalian species demonstrate general similarities to those reported from other contemporaneous A. afarensis sites on the Rift Valley floor,” said Dr. Mbua adding that the Kantis Fossil Site joins other early human sites in eastern Africa and particularly in Kenya, which document evolutionary pathways for modern humans.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with ANA after the media briefing, Dr. Mbua said along with the discovery of the human remains were also remains of ancient mammals such as hippo, monkeys, antelope, rhinos and giraffe.
She told ANA that work on the Kantis site began in mid 2009 after owners of the farm on which the Kantis site stands informed the National Museums of Kenya officials of peculiar bones on the river bed.
“In mid 2009 we did a preliminary survey and found hippo bones on a dry river bed. We noticed that the bones were heavily mineralised/fossilised and after rigorous scientific assessment we knew we had hit a Paleontological site,” said Dr. Mbua.
Then between 2010 and 2012 after sourcing for funds to begin the excavation proper, she and her team of about 15 lab assistants hit the road and set camp at the Kantis site.
“We would set camp one month a year depending on time and funding,” said Dr Mbua adding that in those three years they were able to excavate and find fossilised mammal bones of wild animals.
In 2013 and 2014, Dr Mbua and her team of scientists discovered fragments of human fossils comprising dental remains which included two baby teeth, an adult tooth and an arm bone.
“In total we recovered about 2000 fossil elements and then we constituted a consortium of scientists to study the fossils around the end of 2014,” said Dr Mbua adding that all the fossil elements were stored at the National Museum in Nairobi which is a reservoir of Kenya’s heritage.
Dr Mbua told ANA the study of the fossils involved scientists with expertise in different areas of mammal studies and they painstakingly investigated and put together a study which was peer reviewed globally and then published eventually in March 2016 in the globally acclaimed Journal of Human Evolution, Elsevier, (online version).
She urged the government to gazette the Kantis site (making it a protected heritage area) and also take full advantage of such historical sites to market Kenya as a paleontological tourist site.
“Other countries like South Africa and Ethiopia have already recognised that this is a niche area and are marketing their fossil sites to visitors that are interested in the early human development story,” said Dr Mbua.
According to the National Museums of Kenya, some of the other important fossil sites in Kenya include Koobi Fora, Kanapoi and Nariokotome on the eastern and western side of Lake Turkana respectively.
All these sites have yielded abundant early human fossils that comprise at least five species. The earliest human fossils in the world, dating 7 million years old, were discovered in Turgen Hills in Baringo in the last century, demonstrating that Kenya is the cradle for human origins.
The A. afarensis species fossil at the Kantis site are also known in Ethiopia and Tanzania, but this is the first undisputed site in Kenya.
– African News Agency (ANA)