Dr. Fredrick Kyalo Manthi, E.B.S, Senior Research Scientist Palaeontology Section, Department of Earth Sciences, National Museums of Kenya

The Archaeologist- in- making

The evolutionary history of humans and that of other biological species captivated me at an early age. This was particularly shaped by the many books I read on African prehistory, which were availed to me by my father who worked with the late Dr. Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Whenever my father came home for his holidays, he would narrate to me stories on prehistory, and the excavations they were undertaking at Olduvai Gorge. This fascinated me even further, and helped in nurturing my desire to become an archaeologist some day.
I studied in rural schools in Kikoko Location, Kilome Division of Makueni District. After my Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) in 1981, I joined Thomeandu Secondary School, where I sat for my “0” level examinations in 1985, scoring a very strong Second Division. My studies were suddenly interrupted by lack of school fees. Giving up on my studies was, however, not an option. My dream to pursue the career I most desired was rekindled a few months after, when the then head of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Dr. Richard Leakey, offered me employment at the NMK. I started working at the NMK in June 1986, and my duties included prospecting for fossils in different sites across the country, as well as the curation of the same in the NMK laboratories in Nairobi.

After working for the NMK for four years, I secured sponsorship to pursue a Diploma in Earth Sciences at the Kenya Polytechnic, beginning from 1990 to 1992. After being patient for three years, my career moved a notch higher in 1997 when the Leakey Foundation based in San Francisco (California) awarded me the Baldwin Fellowship, which enabled me pursue a Bachelors degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa.

I completed my Bachelors degree in 1999, majoring in Archaeology and Social Anthropology, which I passed with distinctions. With such good grades, the Leakey Foundation extended the Badwin Fellowship, which enabled me to enrol for Masters degree in the same university between 2001 and 2002. Again I passed the Master of Philosopy degree in archaeology with a distinction and enrolled for a PhD degree in 2003, which I completed in 2006.

Since 1986, I have been involved in many archaeological, palaeontological and geological expeditions in different parts of Kenya. The most memorable moment in the field came on the 5th August 2000, when I discovered a human (Homo erectus) cranium, which together with other fossils of H. habilis has changed the traditionally held theory that H. habilis gave rise H. erectus in a linear succession manner. These new discoveries suggested that the two species co-existed for nearly 0.5 million years, but would have exploited different ecological niches.

Analysis of the fossil cranium began in 2001, and the team studying the fossil included Dr. Meave Leakey.The study involved a lot of comparative analysis both in Kenya and overseas. Finally, to the amazement of the world, the fossil was announced and published in the prestigeous journal, Nature, in August 2007.