2022 is proving already to be a tough year for the Paleoanthropological community as a whole as we lose yet another giant in the field today. Dr. Isaiah Odhiambo Nengo passed away this morning to the surprise, and shock of all those who knew and loved him; which were many across the globe.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya Isaiah was a brilliant student and in High School, a fateful event occurred that would change his life, and the field forever. Luckily for Nengo, the famed Richard Leakey (who also passed earlier this very month) came to visit and speak to his class, as he did to so many youths in his day. Isaiah was immediately hooked, he could not have enough! He begged Leakey to teach him all he could and take him on as a personal portage so to say, and with hard work, dedication, and a bit of luck, after graduating college with a degree in zoology and botany, with outstanding marks, Leakey got Isiah into a doctorate program in the United States, at Harvard in California.
After receiving his doctorate in Biological Anthropology, becoming the student and colleague of famed anthropologists such as David Pilbeam and Stephen Jay Gould in the process. Dr. Nengo would go on to focus on Miocene apes, and their role in the evolution of hominins, and you and I, humankind. Settling in the Bay Area of California, it was not long before those in Kenya wanted the talented Dr. Nengo back in their grasp! Meave Leakey herself showed up one day, nearly pleading, to have him return, and in the end, it worked! This would be a very fateful decision for all involved.
During much of his fieldwork, Dr. Nengo made many impactful discoveries, becoming one of the most well known Kenyan fossil finders of his time, which is important for this is an especially harsh and difficult environment to not only work in but for fossils to form and survive in for any extended periods.
Leading a team that would discover a 13 million-year-old ape skull, which, as we should all know is extraordinarily rare, even more, rare than finding hominin fossils for apes are found in forested areas, and fossils rarely form in wooded areas. So this was amazing! And it was pretty much complete as well! This would come to be known as Alesi.
Following in the footsteps of his close friend Richard Leakey, Nengo became a. science communicator and educator. Not someone who did their research and hid it in the shadows until they were as close to 100% sure they had all the answers. No, Dr. Isaiah was on the front lines of Open Access Science Communication and STEM education, teaching children in Kenya the joys of learning of Human Origins.
At the end of his life, Dr. Nengo spent most of his time in Africa, about half of the year, but worked at a new position at Stony Brook University in New York, and became an Associate Director at the Turkana Basin Institute, formerly run and founded by Leakey.
Dr. Isaiah Nengo taught and inspired many children throughout his distinguished career, supported them, and allowed them to launch their careers despite whatever challenges that they may have been facing. He was the person he needed as a young child. We should all strive to show the dedication, hard work, and love for what we do that Dr. Nengo did.
He will be deeply missed by his loved ones, colleagues, associates, and all Anthropology enthusiasts.
May he rest in peace.