Saturday, August 10, 2013

Meet Kamoya Kimeu, Fossil Hunter

Kimeu with journalist Heeren

Finding Hominids with Kamoya Kimeu

Journalist Fred Heeren with Kimoya Kimeu

-by Fred Heeren

Kamoya Kimeu is not known for his religious views. Many know him for his narrow escapes from lions, crocodiles, and cobras—and many more as East Africa’s preeminent fossil hunter, perhaps the most successful discoverer of hominid bones in the world.

Paleoanthropologists have a running argument about whether fossil prospectors are better prepared for the job from textbooks in academia or from expert collectors in the field, where they learn skeletal anatomy by handling bones and fragments. Kimeu makes a strong case for the latter.

In addition to finding hominids with Louis and Mary Leakey (starting in 1959) and their son Richard (becoming his right-hand man in 1963 and taking control of field operations in Richard’s absence in 1967) and his more recent field work with daughter-in-law Meave Leakey, Kimeu found now-famous hominid specimens while prospecting with Tim White, Alan Walker, Kay Behrensmeyer, and Andrew Hill. In 1977, the National Museums of Kenya appointed him curator for all of Kenya’s prehistoric sites.

Kimeu’s field-trained eyes were the first to spot the bits of fossils leading to the discovery of the earliest Homo sapiens skull (Omo I), now dated to 195,000 years ago. He discovered the 1.5-million-year old Turkana Boy, the most complete skeleton of the small-brained-but-tall-bodied Homo erectus.

Read it all at God and Nature Magazine.

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