Kenyan Palaeontologist Honoured for Key Fossil Finds

At first, he was reluctant to take up the job. Digging up the ground to find fossils did not bode well with the people of his tribe, the Akamba, who abhor touching the dead.

It took some explanation before Kamoya Kimeu understood what it entailed. He began fossil exploration in his twenties, alongside other hired people, and quickly became a skilled palaeontologist while working with Louis and Mary Leakey and later their children.

Had he given up, the world would probably not have heard of the “Turkana Boy”, an almost complete skeleton of Homo erectus that Mr Kimeu dug up in 1984.

The world might also not have discovered a jaw belonging to Austalopithecus boisei, which Mr Kimeu found in 1964 near Lake Natron in Tanzania. Ditto the early Homo sapiens skull he dug up at the Omo valley in Ethiopia in 1968.

He once told the National Geographic that while in the areas to be excavated, he would speak to his ancestors and they would tell him where to find fossils.

“But perhaps the most logical answer lies in the fact that he spent so many days, so many years in the field,” reads an article on

“It is rare that someone is able to devote his or her life to searching for fossils, yet (Mr Kimeu) has done exactly that,” it further states.

Celebrated name

Mr Kimeu is a celebrated name in the global palaeontology circles, though he is not very prominent in Kenya. In 1985, he went to the White House to receive a medal awarded to him by the National Geographic Society from the then president Ronald Reagan. The LaGorce medal that he received on that trip is the highest honour of the National Geographic Society.

Today, Mr Kimeu is set to be honoured once more. The Case Western Reserve University is set to award him an honorary doctorate degree in an event that will be streamed live from Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States of America

“Among his numerous fossil discoveries, Mr Kimeu is especially noted for findings that have provided important insights into human ancestry,” says a statement from the university.

“In Tanzania, his discovery of the Peninj mandible of Paranthropus boisei shed light on previously unknown hominin diversity and debunked the idea that only one hominin species could exist at the same time in a single location. Another finding, a 195,000-year-old Homo sapiens skull, proved to be the earliest known specimen of the human species,” it adds.

From 4pm today (Sunday), Mr Kimeu and his wife will join other guests at a hall in Karen, Nairobi, to watch the award ceremony.

Prof Isaiah Nengo, the director of research and science at the Turkana Basin Institute, told the Sunday Nation that it is a significant milestone for Mr Kimeu, who is now in his 80s.

“Considering the fact that he is somebody who did not finish Class Four, getting these kinds of awards is a testament that he has made a major impact,” Prof Nengo said.

He added: “It will be good for Kenyans to know that among us is a man who has made tremendous contributions to science and it’s not been known. It’s not widely known in Kenya that we have this person.”

In 1977, Mr Kimeu was appointed the curator of prehistoric sites for the National Museums of Kenya, though he still continued working with the Leakeys.

He said the recognition by the Case Western Reserve University is humbling.

“It is great to get something big like this. It is a special honour for me and my family,” said Mr Kimeu in an interview earlier this month.

“My advice to young people is to find what you have a passion for, then be patient and work hard,” he added.

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Author : Nation

Publish date : 2021-05-30 11:12:02

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