Fredrick is a senior research scientist and head of the paleontology section at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, Kenya. He works closely with the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) in the remote Lake Turkana area of the country, and occasionally instructs paleontology courses at the TBI Field School.
Fredrick grew up in Machakos, near the large urban area of Nairobi, Kenya's capital. His father worked with British paleontologist and archaeologist Mary Leakey in the 1970s, "so he used to bring me lots of books on paleontology when I was in high school," Fredrick says. "That is what created my passion for paleontology."
Fredrick says reading about the new paleontology discoveries by Mary Leakey and her son, Richard Leakey, was very inspiring to him as a young adult. Today, Fredrick works closely with Richard, his wife Meave, and his daughter Louise Leakey at the Turkana Basin Institute.
The budding scientist earned his PhD in paleontology from the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa, before returning home to Kenya.
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
Fredrick is now leading two expeditions in the Turkana Basin region. "It's a great thing in my life," he says. "It's a big achievement."
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
"As an African scholar, it is not always very easy to get funding from organizations largely because [in] Kenya, being an African country, they don't provide funding for paleontologists or even for scientists. So I have to write proposals, and I have to compete with scholars from other countries across the world for funding."
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
"In simple terms, I understand geography as the study of the Earth's natural and manmade features, which includes landscapes—including features such as mountains, lakes, dams, etc.—environments, places, and how people relate to these features."
Fredrick says geography is important to paleontologists. "Obviously when I go to Turkana, where I work and I find new fossils, I also have to relate those fossils to other sites in other parts of Africa and the rest of the world," he says. "So basically geography plays a very key role in that area."
He says the use of geographic tools is essential in paleontological field work. "I use GPS all the time," Fredrick says. "Every single fossil that I find in the field, I record the GPS coordinates of that particular site."
SO, YOU WANT TO BE A ... PALEONTOLOGIST
"Being able to get out there in the field, I think is very critical," Fredrick says.
Fredrick says students interested in paleontology can volunteer with excellent programs offered by The National Museums of Kenya, the Turkana Basin Institute, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and the Natural History Museum in London, England.
Fredrick Manthi is the founder and chairman of the Prehistory Club of Kenya, whose mission is to educate young people about Kenyas prehistoric heritage. The Prehistory Club offers lectures on prehistory and human evolution to high school and university students across Kenya. You can visit the Prehistory Club of Kenya's website here.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry archaeologist Noun
person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.
city where a region's government is located.
Encyclopedic Entry: capital coordinates Noun
a set of numbers giving the precise location of a point, often its latitude and longitude.
conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.
journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.
field work Noun
scientific studies done outside of a lab, classroom, or office.
Encyclopedic Entry: field work fossil Noun
remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.
Encyclopedic Entry: fossil funding Noun
money or finances.
study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.
Encyclopedic Entry: geography Global Positioning System (GPS) Noun
system of satellites and receiving devices used to determine the location of something on Earth.
the geographic features of a region.
Encyclopedic Entry: landscape paleontology Noun
the study of fossils and life from early geologic periods.
Encyclopedic Entry: paleontology PhD Noun
(doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.
period of time that occurred before the invention of written records.
distant or far away.
Richard Leakey Noun
(1944-present) Kenyan paleontologist.
urban area Noun
developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.
Encyclopedic Entry: urban area volunteer Noun
person who performs work without being paid.