The “Turkana human” fossil is celebated in an August 1, 2021, Google Doodle. Although that’s the term that Google gave its doodle, the fossil is more commonly known as “Turkana Boy.”
The Turkana human was a fossil that was discovered in 1995 by Kamoya Kimeu, a Kenyan who was part of a team led by Richard Leakey, at Nariokotome, which is near Lake Turkana in northwest Kenya. In 2021, Kimeu, described as Kenya’s “oldest fossil hunter” at age 81, was honored by an Ohio university, according to All Africa.
“Kimeu is a Kenyan who has given his entire life to finding the evidence that other people can interpret for the story of our African origins,” Richard Leakey said of Kimeu, All Africa reported.
Turkana Boy changed scientific understanding about early human beings, as it was an uniquely complete skeleton that walked upright. According to The South African, the fossil is sometimes called Nariokotome Boy.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Fossil Was Discovered in Kenya & Is Sometimes Called ‘Turkana Boy’
The fossil is one of several discovered at Lake Turkana, Kenya, hence its name, according to National Geographic, which says it’s sometimes called “Turkana Boy.’
It was discovered in 1984 and was about 1.5 million years old. “This was a human erectus and is famously known as ‘Turkana Boy,’” reported National Geographic.
There were other fossil discoveries at Lake Turkana. According to Britannica, since 1970, several “important fossils” were unearthed along the shores of Lake Turkana, in what are called the “Koobi Fora sites.”
One was scientifically called an Australopithecus anamensis and pushed back the beginning of “bipedalism” walking on two legs and feet – by half a million years to about 4.2 million years ago, National Geographic reported. In 1972, another fossil was discovered that was 1.9 million years old.
2. The Turkana Human Was a Male Child
Why does Turkana Boy or the Turkana Human matter?
According to the Smithsonian, the skeleton “has allowed scientists to find out a lot of information about body size, body shape, and growth rates of Homo erectus.”
One key factor is that the seleton is 40% complete.
Smithsonian reported that the skeleton was a male, as determined by his pelvis, and he was only 8 or 9 years old.
“This skeleton is 40% complete, based on the principle that bones from one side of the body can tell what the same bone from the other side looked like even if it’s missing,” according to the Smithsonian.
“He was 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) tall and weighed 48 kg (106 lb) when he died; if he had reached adulthood, he might have grown only a little bit taller,” the Smithsonian reports.
3. Turkana Human Was the Most Complete Early Human Skeleton Ever Found
One thing that thrills researchers about the Turkana Human skeleton is how complete it is, allowing for better scientific understanding about early humans.
“Turkana Boy,” was “the most complete early human skeleton ever found,” National Geographic reported, adding that the skeleton “was discovered on the western shore of the lake.”
According to Live Science, some studies suggested that Turkana Boy could not be considered representative of his species due to bone deformities, but another study ruled out scoliosis or dwarfism for the boy.
“Until now, the Turkana Boy was always thought to be pathological,” said study co-author Martin Häusler, a physician and physical anthropologist at the University of Zurich, to Live Science. “The spine was somewhat weird, and so he couldn’t be used as a comparative model for Homo erectus biology because he was so pathological.” The new study found that he was healthy with only a herniated disc in his back, the site reported.
4. Lake Turkana Has Been Described as the Spot That ‘Tells the Story of Humanity’s Birth’
Lake Turkana is considered a cradle of human development. According to BBC, the lake “tells the story of humanity’s birth.”
The site reports that the fossils are found in tectonic layers of volcanic materials, and that the lake used to be a lot larger.
Richard Leakey was first to start digging for fossils in the lake area back in 1968. “My idea was to start at one end and work our way to the other end,” Leakey said, according to BBC. The first few years were ‘a bit of an adventure,’ but before long fossils of numerous species ‘were tumbling out of the ground.’”
BBC reported that the fossil discoveries reinforced the belief that modern humans grew out of multiple lineages. However, Turkana Boy is from a species believed to be our direct ancestors, who migrated from Africa, according to BBC.
5. Turkana Boy Could Probably Hunt & Throw
We can glean details about the lives of early humans through Turkana Boy.
According to BBC, he and his family probably were able to carry hunting tools such as spears, due to their hands.
One study found that they could throw and hunt, which were progressions from more ape-like ancestors, BBC reported.
Some people questioned why Google labeled the Doodle “Turkana Human,” when the fossil is more commonly called Turkana Boy. “Wonder why they said Turkana Human instead of Nariokotome Boy or Turkana Boy? I’m curious about the choice,” wrote one woman on Twitter.