Kenya, a land that once awed explorers, historical adventurers and colonialists alike, is the ‘cradle of humankind’, the home of the ancestry of the human race. The number, kind and spectacle of fossils recovered on the floor and in the sediments of the Rift Valley portray Kenya as the habitat for species (some extinct) that traversed the region as far back as 200 million years ago. Primates were in the region as early as 23 million years ago, apes 18 million, chimpanzees seven million and hominids five million years ago.
Although European settlers who came to Kenya in the late 1800s found a region without the written word, the country had documented its past It has a history written in the rocks that form the hills and the mountains; it is written in the strata forming the sides and eroded by water and wind; it is evident in tools left behind by early humans at their sites of habitation and in fossilized fauna and flora.
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Louis Leakey (1903-1972), a pioneer palaeontologist, referred to the Rift Valley as the “backbone” of Africa, as the most amazing feature of Kenya, a picturesque valley that runs from the north to the south. The movement, the so-called great faulting of the earth’s crust that created the Rift Valley, claimed in its wake species of animals and plants, not to mention lakes that dot the valley (including Nakuru, Naivasha, Baringo and Elementaita) and those in the proximity such as Lake Victoria.
Palaeontologists and archaeologists have been excavating the remains within the Rift Valley to give humanity a sense of time and belonging. It is in this valley that patriarch Leakey, alongside his family (including son Richard, daughter-in-law Meave and daughter Louise), crafted his name and fame from excavating fossils. Today, local and international paleoanthropologists continue to find interesting and important discoveries related to the story of human evolution.
In a 1936 publication, Leakey observes: “In various parts of Africa today, rivers and lakes are laying down deposits of silts and gravels, which contain the bones of animals such as giraffes, rhinoceros and elephants, archaic animals which have succeeded in persisting to the present day.
“The rivers and lakes are also burying in the same deposits the bones of sheep and cattle, and it is obviously these which in future will be used in assessing the age of the deposits.”
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