The last course at the Turkana Basin Institute’s Field School is Paleontology, the study of animal evolution through fossil remains, taught by Professors William Anyonge and Fredrick Kyalo Manthi.
The course began last week as Dr. Anyonge, of Xavier University in Cincinnati, began lectures and lab exercises on taphonomy, vertebrate morphology and evolution. Dr. Manthi, who heads the Kenya National Museum’s division of Paleontology, has lectured on micromammal assemblages and led exercises in the field. Both lecturers have been joined by Dr. Meave Leakey, whose expertise on the paleontology of the Turkana Basin has proved invaluable for students in the course.
Dr. William Anyonge is a professor of Paleontology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, but is a native of Kenya and worked for many years in the Kenyan Museum of Natural History. He began his lectures by reviewing comparative vertebrate skeletal and dental anatomy, and helping students understand processes of fossilization.
Laboratory exercises allow students to interact with modern and fossil remains that are discussed in lecture. Most of the materials made available for study are prepared by TBI paleontological or zoological staff, such as Timothy Ngundo and Harrison Ngumbau, who manage collections.
Dr. Fredrick Kyalo Manthi is the head of Paleontology at the Kenya National Museums, and an expert on micromammal assemblages. While most of us are familiar with the famous fossil remains of our ancestors like Lucy, or of large sabertooth cats or mammoths, few realize that the remains of small animals including rodents and bats are also critical for paleontological research. Groups of fossil remains from small mammals found in discrete areas, called assemblages, can help researchers precisely identify locally varying niches which were present on a landscape millions of years ago.
The Turkana Basin Institute has a facility on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana at the site of Ileret, famous for its fossil-rich sediments and discoveries that regularly make headlines. The TBI Ileret facility houses some of the National Museum of Kenya’s specimens recently collected from the area..
East Lake Turkana is lush in vegetation when compared to the west of the Lake, and now home to many more animals. Scientists and locals do say however that West Turkana was less arid even 100 years ago compared to today.
To everyone’s excitement, great storm clouds brough rains to much of the Turkana Basin last week.
Francis Emmekui is from Nariokotome, and one of TBI’s fossil hunters. He remembers excavations at Nariokotome outside his home as a child, and is much loved by students for this story and others that he relates when not busy supporting expeditions in the field.
Vervet monkeys are sometimes seen in the riverine canopies adjacent to the Turkwel River at TBI. Their remains are collected and preserved as teaching and comparative zoological materials in the TBI labs.