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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2017 Awardees 2017 (SEDN - Scientists from Economically Developing Nations Award) Job Munuhe Kibii

Although I knew about hominid and stone tool discoveries in East Africa while in Primary and Secondary School, I hadn’t planned to pursue any subject that would lead me to becoming a paleoscientist at University level.

My major interests were in mathematics and economics which I planned to pursue at the University of Nairobi. In 1994, I set out to register for a degree in at the University of Nairobi and as a rule, one was supposed to register for three subjects in the first year and could drop either two or one at the end of the second year. It was on a Friday, I registered for Mathematics and Sociology but when I arrived at the Department of Economics, I was told to return and register on Monday since there were too many people in the queue. I wasn’t keen on waiting for a whole weekend without formally registering. As I walked down the stairs, I saw a poster advertising a degree in Archaeology. I consoled myself that since I was already registered in Mathematics and Sociology, I could fill-up the third subject with Archaeology in the hope that at the end of second year, I could drop Sociology and Archaeology and major in Mathematics.

By the end of second year I was in love with Archaeology. I ended up dropping Mathematics and continued with Archaeology and Sociology. With honours in both subjects, I approached the Department of Archaeology at National Museums of Kenya for a job in 1999. The head of Archaeology told me there were two vacancies but both required a master’s in Archaeology as a minimum. He urged me to return to the university for a two-year master’s in Archaeology, after which I would be guaranteed a job, as few Kenyans were qualifying in that subject. On the noticeboard in his office, there was a pamphlet advertising a one-year masters in Palaeoarchaeology at the University of the Witwatersrand. I took the details and I applied. Two weeks later I received a positive response of both acceptance and sponsorship.

I enrolled for masters in Palaeoarchaeology at the University of the Witwatersrand in July 1999 and completed in 2000. The following year I began my doctorate in Palaeoarchaeology and Palaeoanthropology at the same University with sponsorships from the university and the Leakey Foundation Baldwin Fellowship. Two years later during my studies, I discovered 12 hominid specimens. These included the first Australopithecine scaphoid, and a pelvis fragment that for the first time enabled an accurate reconstruction of the australopithecine pelvis.

In 2005, I received a doctorate degree, becoming the first indigenous African to obtain a degree in Palaeoarchaeology and Palaeoanthropology from University of the Witwatersrand. I was after hosted by Professor Tobias as a post-doctoral fellow and was later employed by the university as a researcher. In 2008, I was invited by Professor Lee Berger to partner and direct excavations at the site of Malapa. During this time, I was involved in the discovery, analysis and naming of Australopithecus sediba.

In 2015, I was requested by Dr Fredrick Manthi, Head of Earth Sciences, National Museums of Kenya, to return home and head the Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology Division. I accepted, since I knew it was an opportunity to implement some of the ideas I had learnt in South Africa on how to conduct public outreach and get the knowledge of the fields of palaeosciences reach as many Kenyans. In addition to my outreach engagements, I continue to conduct my research at the paleocave site of Gondolin in South Africa as well as palaeontological and archaeological sites in Kenya.

I am honored and grateful to Society of Vertebrate Paleontology for selecting me as the winner of 2017 program for Scientists from Economically Developing Nations.