Friday, October 16, 2009

Overview of Human Evolution; message to Meru

By Lawrence Nzuve

Spreading once again the Evolution message, the prehistory club recently set out for Meru to meet young science enthusiasts drawn from several schools in the larger Meru district and specifically targeted were those studying History and Biology. Schools in attendance included Meru School,Kaaga Boys Secondary School,Kaaga Girls Secondary School, Kinoro Girls Secondary School, Mwithumwiru Secondary School, St. Eugene Secondary School.

Attending this outreach program were Dr. Fredrick Manthi, Senior Research Scientist, National Museums of Kenya, Earth Science Department, Paleontology Section. Post-doctoral Fellow Turkana Basin Institute, Stony Brook University, New York,who was the main speaker and Mr. Francis Ndiritu, Operations and Public affairs, Prehistory Club of Kenya who was in charge of photography and other logistics

The Principal of Meru School welcomed all the participating students and teachers before handing over the mantle to Dr. Manthi to begin his lecture. The participants were very eager to learn as portrayed by their vividly cheerful mood. To start them off was a film entitled ‘Allosaurus, a Walking with the Dinosaurs Special’. The humor from the film kept the students cheerful throughout the video session. This was from the mode of feeding of the dinosaurs including the predatory behavior, to the locomotion, reproduction, aggression displays, juveniles at play and groups altruism etc.

Keen students and teachers who attended the Meru outreach

‘Human Evolution: An Overview’, is the talk being given to secondary schools across the country. Dr. Manthi elaborated on the topics of human origins and evolution majorly on characteristics of past human ancestors. Struggle for existence; survival for the fittest which is in short Adaptation for survival coined by Sir Charles Darwin in his book ‘on the origin of species’ was the key concept of discussion. Students were let to understand that evolution is as a result of pressures to species, populations or communities by the environment, making them change to adapt to the surrounding changes. This is generally referred to as ‘Descent with modification’ whereby the offspring are better acquainted to the environment than the parents. With the modern technology, man has tamed the environments so much such that the pressures that would lead to evolution in humans today are minimal. The inventory of reliable and fast means of transport, production and processing of foods, sedentary lifestyle and good homes, friendly gadgets such as deep freezers, air conditioners etc, and mode of clothing i.e. warm clothes in the cold environments and vice versa are some of the steps man has taken to tame the environment. With this in place the rate of biological evolution in humans is too slow and will continue to remain so.

The Lamarck’s theory of ‘use and disuse’ was also discussed as a likely factor that causes evolution of species too. This was in particular funny to the students possibly due to their naughty adolescent character. Dr. Manthi gave an example of the lost tails in some primates, for example the apes as a result of changed behavior from all-time tree dwellers to sometimes ground dwellers. The tail is important in arboreal species for balancing while jumping from tree to tree.

Dr. Manthi compared and contrasted the differences and similarities between the early humans ancestors from the genus Australopithecus, through Paranthropus, to Homo in a chronological order. He discussed the relative and absolute methods of dating. Other non-hominid fauna and floral species were looked at briefly before embarking on the career opportunities in prehistory. The minimum requirements required in pursuing courses in archaeology, paleontology and geology were discussed and the advantages associated with undertaking careers in these fields.

Questions on humans’ origins and evolution were asked and Dr. Manthi took considerable time to clarify on the pertinent issues on the science of humans’ origins and evolution. Caring for the environments and planting trees was emphasized to ensure that humans as a species has a future. Dr. Manthi also underscored the fact that the terms ‘evolution’ and ‘extinction’ of species are not yet extinct. The teachers commended the Leakey Foundation for sponsoring this outreach program which is helping them to answer most of the challenging questions they face daily in their line of duty while teaching prehistory

Dr. Manthi gives his powerful presentation; Meru outreach was an eye opener and students were left in stitches at times

The Meru Central outreach program was a great success and this is attributed to the hard work of the Meru Museums’ Staff in mobilizing the schools. The Prehistory Club believes that the information fed to these students will serve to improve the face of prehistory in Kenya now and in the future. We wish to air our appreciation to the Leakey foundation and the National Museums of Kenya for this laudable program.

We express our heart felt gratitude to the Leakey Foundation for the great support they have continued to offer to the Club.