About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2009 (Program for Scientists) Fredrick Kyalo Manthi
I was born in Machakos, Kenya. 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, all of which were brought to me by my father who worked with the late Dr. Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. After my high school education, I joined the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), where my duties included prospecting for fossils in different sites across the country and curating 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. Four years later, I secured a Leakey Foundation fellowship which enabled me to pursue an undergraduate degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa. I completed the undergraduate degree in 1999, having majored in Archaeology which I passed with a distinction. Based on this work, the Leakey Foundation provided further support, which enabled me to enroll for Masters degree in the same university between 2001 and 2002. I completed the Master of Philosophy degree in archaeology with distinction and enrolled for a PhD degree in 2003, which I completed in 2006. I am currently a currently a Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Earth Sciences at the NMK, and a Post-doctoral Fellow with the Turkana Basin Institute of the Stony Brook University. My research centers on the study of Plio-Pleistocene small mammal faunas (particularly rodents and shrews) and their utility for reconstructing palaeoenvironments during the course of early hominin evolution.
By and large, I have since 1986 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 helped to change the traditionally held belief that H. habilis gave rise to H. erectus in a linear successive manner. These new discoveries suggested that the two species co-existed for nearly 0.5 million years, exploiting different ecological niches. Analysis of the fossil cranium began in 2001, and the team studying the cranium was led by the renowned palaeontologist Dr. Meave Leakey. The study involved comparative work both in Kenya and overseas. Finally, the fossil was announced and published in Nature in August 2007. Currently, I am conducting research in a number of Pliocene sites in the Lake Turkana Basin, northwestern Kenya.
I am deeply honored to be the first recipient of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Scientist from an Economically Developing Nation Award. Thanks to all of you who made this possible.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Fredrick Kyalo Manthi.