National Museums takes Kenyan heritage online


Dr Fredrick Manthi, palaeontologist at the National Museums of Kenya holds the skull of the renowned Turkana Boy. PHOTO | SARAH OOKO | NMG

Tourists are visual individuals. Whenever it comes to picking where to visit and what to see, the Internet is the go-to tool to figure it out.

Kenya has made some strides over the past year by digitally curating the National Archives and most recently getting some of our parks on Google’s Street View.

The National Museums of Kenya has joined in the digital race with an initiative aimed at digitising its different collections that depict the country’s rich heritage.

As the major custodian of ‘roots and origins’ of Kenya, the institution seeks to take its historical collections online to promote public awareness and market the country globally.

Dr Fredrick Manthi, head of earth sciences at the National Museums of Kenya says the first phase of the project — sponsored by Amazon Web Services and Intel Corporation — will involve the digitising about 10,000 fossils and artefacts of cultural significance to the country.

“We will then move to other areas such as art and botanical collections so as to ensure that the online database we’re creating captures some of our best collections.”

The digitisation process entails taking still photos, 3D-images as well as high resolution videos of the fossils and artefacts.

Records offering descriptive information about them, which are currently on paper records will also be captured electronically.

Dr Manthi told the Digital Business that the project would enable the institution to create a virtual museum that will offer an interactive sneak preview of interesting collections and information.

This is expected to boost the number of local and international tourists visiting the institution hence generating income.

“The idea is to provide information that is sufficient enough but not everything...We want to create awareness and whet people’s appetites so they can come to the museum,” he said.

Once the digitisation project is completed, the National Museums will join the ranks of world class museums such as Louvre in Paris, Smithsonian in Washington and British in London that have gained popularity worldwide due to their impressive virtual presence.


Oldowan stone tools dating as far back as 2.5 million years ago. PHOTO | SARAH OOKO | NMG

By visiting the websites of these institutions, viewers from whichever part of the world can enjoy comprehensive (room by room) 360 degrees virtual walking tours that expose them to various exhibits in the museums.

These digital tours take people up and down stairways or along narrow and broad pathways to make them feel like they are inside the actual museum.

Viewers can also ‘pick’ certain artefacts on racks by clicking on them so as to enjoy close-up (zoomed-in) views of the object and corresponding background information.

Such interactive digital platforms showcase museums in appealing formats which counter the ‘dull, boring and old’ image that lay people have of museums since they deal with historical objects.

“We really hope that this will encourage Kenyans, especially young people to discover our national heritage and learn to appreciate it,” says Dr Manthi who is also a palaeontologist.

Kenya is renowned for its unique fossil and artefact collections, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.

“So all we need to do is package this information really well through the digital platform so we can reach out to as many people as possible.”


Acheulean stone tools dating as far back as 1.6 million years ago. PHOTO | SARAH OOKO

Fossils refer to remains or traces of human beings, animals and plants that existed in ancient times, at least 10,000 years ago.

Major fossils in the country include some of the world oldest skeletal human remains, dating back to seven million years that are stored at the National Museums.

They have helped scientists understand how human beings evolved over the years.