An Integrative Archeology, Paleontology, and Geology (IAPG) Mobile Lab for Teaching Human Origins

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Purpose and problem to be addressed

Kenya has produced much original research, especially in the fields of archaeology, geology and paleontology, which are well represented at its leading institutions, such as the National Museums of Kenya and the University of Nairobi.  However, disseminating the collected knowledge is made difficult by this nation’s colonial history, traditional cultural norms, and civil infrastructure. This is no more apparent than at the primary schools across the rural and semi-arid desert areas of the country, where the travel of people, ideas, and resources is limited by 4-wheel drive roads that connect modest urban centers to communities farming and/or herding livestock.  Our intent is develop a mobile system of learning that will help to enrich the academic experience of primary school faced with these challenges.

 

Archaeology

Archaeology is the study of past societies through the remains of their material culture.  In Kenya, the archaeology sites are extensive, and the archaeological record from about 3 million years ago through the colonial period.  Most of our focus will be on the Stone Age, roughly from three million years ago to ten thousand years ago and subdivided into the Early, Middle, and Later Stone Age.  Each of these divisions are recognized by the types artifact found at archaeological sites, such as Oldowan artifacts found at Early Stone Age sites and Acheulian artifacts found at Early and Middle Stone Age sites.  These stone tools are created by the knapping of different rocks, which usually are selected to be made into tools because of their fracturing properties and availability at outcroppings.

 

Geology

Geology is the study of rocks and minerals, the processes that form these materials, Earth structure and composition, and how Earth and its natural systems have changed through time.  There are three basic kinds of rocks: sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic.  Sedimentary and igneous rocks figure importantly into the study of archeology and paleontology.  Igneous rocks, especially volcanic rocks, in Kenya are used to determine the age of sedimentary rocks that preserve archeological artifacts and fossils.

One of the most prominent aspects of Kenya’s geography is the rift valley, which is dotted by a series of active and extinct volcanoes.  The rift valley and its tectonic faults, physiography, and geological formations greatly influence the topography, climate and the savanna ecosystems of Kenya.

 

Paleontology

A large majority of what we know about the evolution of African mammals, including humans, derives from studying the fossils of Kenya.  The Leakey family helped to pioneer this pursuit through their work at East African sites, such as Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) and Lake Turkana (Kenya).

There are two broad categories of fossils: trace fossils, which typically provide evidence of a behavioral aspect of a past organism, and body fossils, which are the remnants of bone, teeth, claws, etc. that are preserved within in sedimentary rocks.  Burial of the organism soon after death is a key necessity for the formation of body fossils.  Therefore, the transport of sediment by water and thus the formation of sedimentary rock are concomitant with fossil formation.  After burial, the body part is hardened into a fossil by minerals that replace tissue and other organic materials—a process called mineralization.

Based upon the paleontological study of Kenyan fossils recovered from the rift valley, a number of human ancestors have been discovered.  When these fossils are compared in a dated time sequences, two of the more apparent aspects of our lineages evolution is that body size and brain size have increase significantly over the last size million years.  Surprisingly though, the first feature that indicants a distinctly human ancestor to have evolved was the ability to walk on two legs, i.e., bipedal walking.  These and other lines of evidence learned from Kenya fossils have help us piece together the human phylogeny and our taxonomic relationships with other primates.

 

Future endeavors

Although a mobile lab would be our ultimate goal, we envision that a way to supplement the dissemination of information would be through the use of suitcase-sized lab kits.  These kits would contain a modest collection of hands-on material to actuate our learning gals and objectives. Moreover, the kits are to be sent out through the countryside with trained Kenyan nationals that would visit primary schools using the network of matatu taxis.  These mobile instructors represent not only additional teaching opportunities but also a means for the youth to receive instruction from role models with local roots.