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Day 8 (July 3, 2011): Alison and Katie’s Excursion
July 3, 2011
Today is Sunday, usually a day of relaxation and catching up with writing or other tasks. Alison and Katie, though, decided to seize an opportunity to go on an excursion with Dr. Stanley Ambrose. Stan is an archeologist and geochemist at the University of Illinois, where he works on the Urbana-Champaign campus. He’s also a well-known figure in East African research.
A large percentage of artifacts from our project’s BOK sites are made from obsidian. Obsidian, which originally is erupted from volcanoes, is called an ‘exotic material’ because it’s not found in the immediate vicinity of Olorgesailie. Instead, it had to be carried in by early humans from many kilometers away. So, we have something of an ‘obsidian hunt’ going on! Where exactly did early toolmakers get the obsidian?
Of course, finding obsidian sources requires local knowledge. So Stan and the group first drove to a nearby town where they picked up the local sub-chief, Samuel, and his friend Mathias. Samuel and Mathias are both Maasai, the dominant ethnic group in the area. To make navigation easier, Stan spent the entire day communicating with Samuel and Mathias in Swahili. After several decades of research in Kenya, Stan’s Swahili is very good. Katie is also proficient, and we encourage anyone who joins our research team to learn at least the basics.
Based on the later retelling by Katie and Alison, the group then set off for Lake Kwenia, to the southeast of Mt. Olorgesailie. Well, everyone calls it Lake Kwenia, but most of the year it’s a plain of tall grass, which then turns swampy during the rainy seasons. (There are two rainy seasons each year in the Kenya Rift Valley). The moisture in the ground expands into a lake only during very rainy periods, when it rains several years in a row. Right now, Lake Kwenia is dry ground. They drove through the bush for another hour before pulling over under the shade of a large acacia tree for a lunch of sandwiches and fruit, greeting Maasai as they passed by.
Altogether, it was great excursion!