Man behind Baringo ancient footprints discovery

With only primary level of education, Kenneth Kimosop Rutto was intrigued by the topic on evolution during a Standard Seven lesson. And in 2016, he led the team from National Museums of Kenya to discover Homo erectus footprints

Harriet James

Oh my God! A bewildered Kenneth Kimosop Rutto exclaimed at the sight of unusually large footprints on a volcanic ash rock embedded on the bed of a drying stream that flowed in his shamba.

On this day, he left his house as usual heading to work. However, something strange jolted him to a halt. A series of huge impressions of peculiar human footprints lay in front of him. “There is a dry stream on my land whose bed and banks get eroded every so often. On this day, I saw abnormally large human footprints measuring about 26 centimetres. Erosion had taken place, and so, the footprints were visible,” says Rutto.

Rutto, 38, decided to contact the National Museums of Kenya and requested them to research on the footprints. In 2016, a group of researchers visited the site.

Past meets present

According to research conducted on site, it was deduced that the footprint must have been of a Homo Erectus man who lived in the area between 70,000 years and 1.9 million years ago.

The first set of footprints that Rutto found shows three people walking  fairly close together headed in the same direction. The next set of prints on higher ground are of three steps and then another two. And because all the footprints found by Rutto are facing one direction, they must have belonged to people fleeing from a possible volcano eruption. In addition, Rutto found a lion’s pug marks and footprints of wading birds embedded in the same grey volcanic ash rock.

The footprints measure roughly 26 cm and on average a normal human being, according to the scientists, takes strides that measure 76cm apart.

From a distant, a radiant Rutto wouldn’t look like one who would take keen interest in such things or even collect artifacts. Many of his age mates either keep livestock for a living or are farmers. So, how did a Class Eight drop out from Baringo North become a partaker in such a discovery? He could just have brushed it off. Well, not for him. Despite the fact that he never had a secondary school education, one passion lingered in his heart; his love for History and Geography, particularly the study of evolution during his primary school days. And he developed a passion for searching for ancient artifacts.

Rutto was born in 1980 and is the third born of seven children. He comes from Baringo North, a county that has been plagued by drought, which makes life in this area unbearable. His parents, who earn their livelihood through farming, failed to raise enough money to take him to high school. So, in 1998, he dropped out of school.

“I had to hustle to look for odd jobs just to sustain myself. Life was tough,” he says.

Passion and interest

Since he was taught that Dr Louis Leakey discovered ancient human fossils around Lake Turkana and Baringo, he was always curious searching for fossils or an artifacts. This he did as he performed odd jobs such as being a mason, or taking care of livestock.

“When I was in Standard Seven, I developed an interest to discover fossils just like the Leakey family. I have never met them, but I have read some of their books to see what they discovered. This stirred a desire in me to  look for ancient artifacts whenever I am off workm hence it became a  passion,” he tells me as he brings my lunch at Island Camp Baringo where he works.

He has been working in this camp since 2002 when he was employed as a casual labourer and worked hard to rise through the ranks to become the person in charge of the restaurant.

For now, though still working in the camp, Rutto still continues to look for fossils. He has preserved his shamba and desires to have it recognised as a prehistoric site to assist the next generation to understand the importance of preserving history.

“Everyone who comes here is amazed and understands the significance of conservation. The challenges I get are soil erosion, especially when it rains. I also have to protect the area from trespassers,” he says.

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