It was at the Kanam Prehistoric Site situated along the shores of Lake Victoria on the Homa Peninsular in Homa Bay that famous Archaeologist, Louis Leakey, in 1932, discovered the first fossils of what he thought to be Australopithecus.
Global doubt was immediately cast on this discovery as the scientific community questioned Leakey’s credibility and competence. The pressure forced him to rename the fossil Homo Kanamensis.
A Leakey-led expedition had just discovered what they thought to be an australopithecine fossil of a human mandible together with Pleistocene fauna and pebble tools at Kanam West. But the scientific community led by the late British geologist PGH Boswell thought otherwise.
Leakey invited Boswell to verify the sites for himself but when he (Boswell) arrived at Kanam in 1935, he found that the iron markers Leakey had used to mark the sites had been removed by locals for use as harpoons for fishing and the sites could now not be located. Coincidentally all the photos Leakey had during his first expedition were ruined by a light leak in the camera!
After spending two fruitless months searching for the site, Boswell left for England. Leakey recounts him promising not to publish anything. He never kept his promise. The sensational article ran in the Nature International Journal of Science on March 9, 1935. It cast doubt on the dating of the finding and questioned Leakey’s competence. The Kanam controversy had begun.
Sir Arthur Keith (5 February 1866 – 7 January 1955), later seemed to agree with Leakey. The Scottish anatomist and anthropologist agreed with the initial australopithecine classification. Since then scientists have found more fossils at Kanam dating back between 1 and 6 million years. Most are Neanderthaloid which is associated with the more modern man than with Australopithecus.
Leakey’s discovery at Kanam is still as controversial today as it was in the 30s. How could a single archaeological expedition have so many misfortunes? Boswell, in his article, insisted the localities of the finding were not marked on the ground nor the sites recorded on a map. Whatever happened at Kanam lies hidden in its bosom waiting to be rediscovered one day!