Debate rages in Kenya as evangelicals try to keep ancient skeleton in the closet

Deep in the dusty, unlit corridors of Kenya's national museum, locked away in a plain looking cabinet, is one of mankind's oldest secrets.

Turkana Boy, as he is known, is the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found, hailed by scientists as one of the world's most famous fossil finds.

But his first public display later this year is at the heart of a growing storm one pitting scientists against Kenya's powerful and popular evangelical Christian movement. The debate over evolution once largely confined to the United States has arrived in a country known as the cradle of mankind.

"I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it," says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of the country's 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims has around 10 million followers. "These sorts of silly views are killing our faith."

He's calling on his flock to boycott the exhibition and has demanded the museum relegate the fossil collection to a back room carrying some kind of warning that evolution is not a fact but merely one of a number of theories.

Against him is one of the planet's best-known fossil hunters, Richard Leakey, whose team unearthed the bones at Nariokotome in West Turkana, in the desolate, far northern reaches of Kenya in 1984.

"Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his," Leakey, who founded the museum's prehistory department, told The Associated Press. "The bishop is descended from the apes and these fossils tell how he evolved."

Among the 160,000 fossils due to go on display is an imprint of a lizard left in sedimentary rock, dating back 200 million years, at a time when the Earth's continents were only beginning to separate.

Dinosaur fossils and a limb bone from an early human ancestor, dating back seven million years, will also be on show along with bones of short-necked giraffes and elephants whose tusks protrude from their lower, rather than upper jaw.

They provide the clearest and unrivaled record yet of evolution and the origins of man, say scientists.

But the highlight will be the 5 feet 3 inch (1.52 meters) tall Turkana Boy, who died aged 12 and whose skeleton had been preserved in marshland before its discovery, reports AP.

It will form the center stage of the exhibition to be launched in July following a massive Ђ8 million (US$10.5 million) revamp of the National Museums of Kenya, financed by the European Union. The EU says it has no concerns over the displays and that the museum was free to exhibit what it wished.

Followers of creationism believe in the literal truth of the Genesis account in the Bible that God created the world in six days. Bishop Adoyo believes the world was created 12,000 years ago, man six thousand years later. He says each day was equivalent to 1,000 earth years.

Adoyo's evangelical coalition is the only religious group voicing concerns about the exhibition.

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