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Archeologists find early man artifacts in Nyeri

A group of Kenyan archaeologists who teamed up with US-based Kenyan students initiated the research. [Ndungu Gachane, Standard]

The history of the origin of humankind traces one to Africa and to be precise the Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ethiopian Rifts but Central Kenyan Highlands would soon be included in that map.

A group of Kenyan archaeologists who teamed up with US-based Kenyan students initiated the research which in its preliminary findings have shown signs of existence of early man in Ngobit, Kieni, Nyeri County.

Their research was triggered by the discovery of ancient stone artifacts in 2020 during the construction of the Kiawara-Belleview Road in Kieni.

The artifacts which included the Eustachian hand axes were similar to those used by Homo Erectus and resembled those found in the world-famous Olorgesailie site on the way to Lake Magadi.

The group of about ten archeologists in partnership with the National Museum of Kenya have also found other artifacts which they have categorized into Oldest and Middle-Level technology while noting they are yet to find an artifact associated with the Late Stone Age.

They include choppers which the early man is believed to use to chop and crack bones to get the marrow and also the heavy-duty cutting and digging hand axes which is approximated to be 1.7 million years.

“Such hand axes similar to the one we found have been researched to be about 1.7 million years but we have taken the sample to US to indicate the exact year,” Veronica Waweru, one of the three principal investigators in the team said.

According to Waweru, this is the first time locals are conducting the study of human origins and evolution of technology as the first ones were conducted by colonial masters.

“The current history of human origin and ancient heritage is biased since focus was only from specific areas of Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ethiopian Rifts but we want to see the contribution of Central Highlands to the history of human evolution,” Waweru said.

The group which largely comprises former museum officials but who went abroad for further education said their unique findings in Ngobit, Kieni have also unearthed fossils of unique animals that have never been found anywhere.

“The findings show that people who survived in that area must have been very clever and moved to the highlands when other places dried up. The area looks like it was the refuge of humans and animals,” Waweru said.

The narrative of possible habitation of the highlands by early man emerged in 1997 after paleontologists researched on fossils found in Gatarakwa but lack of tangible proof to substantiate the theory halted the research.

Aryer Grossman, a Vertebrate Paleontologist and Anatomist from Midwestern University in Arizona, said "the preliminary findings have a potential of explaining how people from Central Kenya interacted with the environment and how the environment changed and affected life for the last hundred thousand years."

Dr Francis Kirera, an anatomy scientist said they started the research in 2018 but it was stalled by Covd-19 pandemic and it will take a couple of years to finish the project.

“Some of the samples which include sand, artifacts and fossils have been sent to the National Museum of Kenya for further research,” Dr Kirera noted.

But their archeological mission has not been without challenges.

In a region where land is an emotive issue, residents are apprehensive that their land could be grabbed or they could be evicted.

“That has proved to be one of our biggest challenges but we want to educate the community on the importance of the country's heritage to the world and let them know that they will still have their land,” said Kirera.

All over the world, study shows that the early man occupied the open grasslands only, but new evidence is now leading scientists to the woodlands in what could lead to rewriting the accounts of the human cradle.

It is through soil erosion, human activities like road construction, digging ditches for water pipes and building activities that have exposed the artifacts and attracted the archaeologists.

Kenya has a larger diversity of fossil human species remains than any other African country and Africa's oldest human remains were found in the Tugen Hills in Kenya about 7 million years ago.

Kenya also has some of the world’s most complete skeletons including the Turkana boy (1.6 million years old) and is endowed with many pre-historic sites along Rift Valley and Western parts.