NAIROBI A team of palaeontologists has discovered undisputed early remains of modern man very close to the Kenyan capital, 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 the media and the world over the weekend, 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 the 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, co-ordinated 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, who added 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 South Africa’s African News Agency (ANA) after the media briefing, Dr. Mbua said that 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 National Museums of Kenya officials of peculiar bones on the river bed.
“In total we recovered about 2,000 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).
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.