Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Origin of species and coming home:Thomeandu Outreach

By Lawrence Nzuve

The recent Outreach Programme by the Prehistory Club that took place in Thomeandu Boys High School was like a home coming event to Dr. Fredrick Manthi EBS; the able chair of the Prehistory Club of Kenya who did his secondary certificate from this school. Not only was the opportunity befitting for him and his team to give back to his former school, but also to advise the students on matters ranging from discipline to time management. Dr. Manthi too took time to discuss with the teachers on the ways to help improve the school running and development.

Dr. Manthi (left) explains a point to National Heritage Minister Hon. William Ntimama at a past function. Looking on is Kenya National Museums Director General Dr. Idle Farah

In his lecture to the schools, Dr. Manthi discussed the topics of human origins and evolution. The concept of Struggle for existence; survival for the fittest; whereby only the best suit species or individuals survive was discussed at lengthy. This concept was coined by Sir Charles Darwin in his book ‘on the origin of species’. In his talk, Dr. Manthi clarified to the students 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. However such pressures are minimal to humans today because of the advancements in modern technology, whereby man has tamed the environments so much. Different ways and means to make life bearable from transport system, communication, production, processing etc, are some of the steps man has taken to tame the environments. With this in place the rate of biological evolution in humans is too slow and gradual such that it can not be noticed within a single generation

Another concept that was looked into is the famous Lamarck’s theory of ‘use and disuse’. This is another reason that probably causes evolution of species according to Lamarck. A good example is the lost tail in apes as a result of changed behavior from all-time tree dwellers to partly ground dwellers. The tail is important in arboreal species for balancing while jumping from tree to tree.

Dr. Manthi discussed the differences and similarities between the early humans’ ancestors from the genus Australopithecus, through Paranthropus, to Homo in a chronological order. Possible reasons why the hominids got extinct were looked into; a good example being the Neanderthals who were incorporated into the larger gene pool of the more anatomically advanced species the Cro-Magnon. Methods of dating were a topic of interest where by two methods i.e. the relative and absolute methods were discussed. Accompanying Dr. Manthi in his tour was Mrs. Dr. Grace Manthi; Coordinator Prehistory Club of Kenya who was in charge of organizing , coordinating and other logistics.

To break the monotony Dr. Manthi discussed briefly the fossils of non-faunal species housed at the National Museums of Kenya. This was to inform the students that evolution is not a preserve of primates alone and that all other species have evolved alongside primates. The lecture was summarized by information on 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.

Part of the participants who attended the Makueni Outreach Programme follow keenly the proceedings

To recap his talk, Dr. Manthi took considerable time to explain on the pertinent issues on the science of humans’ origins and evolution. Matters of environmental issues were discussed whereby the participants agreed to plant trees as a means of checking global warming and desertification. He accentuated that ‘evolution’ and ‘extinction’ of species is still present and therefore conservation of the remaining species is the role of man. 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.

We thank the Leakey Foundation for funding this outreach programme.