Thierra Nalley: Another View from the Field #4—Nairobi, Kenya

Greetings from Kenya!

This is my first time to Nairobi, and I’m sorry to be spending only three nights here in the city. I have little time but to work at the museum during the day and watch rugby cup matches on the TV at night while I format data. Ironically, I am spending the least amount of time at this museum, but it took the most effort, paperwork, and money to gain access to the Australopithecus (Paranthropus) boisei and Homo erectus specimens housed here.

TN Kenya 1Serendipitously, I was able to add a fun bonus to my fossil sample with a few recently published Miocene hominoid specimens that date to about 15 million years ago (mya). The Japanese researchers who discovered and described Nacholapithecus kerioi were very gracious, allowing me to measure the fossil vertebrae before they were even moved from their “unpublished” field bags to the “published” shelving in the museum fossil vault.

TN Kenya 2This step in fossil curation is currently what Dr. Kimbel is doing with some newly published Hadar material in Addis Ababa. I am very excited to add this particular fossil species to my sample because it may represent a “transitional” form; its morphology suggests some of the earliest suspensory adaptations in the hominoid (apes and humans) fossil record. If the locomotor TN Kenya 3hypotheses in my dissertation are supported, than I can apply them to ancient hominoids such as Nacholapithecus kerioi and help us understand when suspensory locomotion evolved in the hominoid lineage. This is an important question to many paleoanthropologists because it would help establish if suspensory locomotion evolved independently in the orangutan, gorilla, and chimpanzee lineages or if it is a shared trait of all hominoid ancestors (including hominins). Understanding when suspensory locomotion evolved lets researchers know if it should be incorporated into the context of our own species’ evolution.

TN Kenya 4My hotel is a five-minute walk to the museum and the hotel grounds are surrounded by deceptively lush gardens. Once outside the hotel compound, however, the quick stroll to the museum is a drastic shift from decadence to a developing urban center. It is a relatively safe neighborhood with a large amount of foot traffic to the nearby university. But I do not have a picture illustrating the change in scenery, as I did not want to push my luck taking out a camera. Carrying the 3D digitizer in a hard-cased rollaway is already enough “stuff” to draw attention to myself.

I leave for Paris tomorrow, and I am looking forward to staying in a rented flat where I can walk around a bit more when I am not at the museum. Not to say that I do not love working in and visiting Africa. It of course comes with its own set of special travel issues, especially for a woman travelling alone; but when I can see Mt. Kilimanjaro poking through the clouds from my airplane window and hold a 15 mya fossil vertebra in my hand the following day, well, experiences such as these make working in Africa pretty wonderful.


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