August 14, 2004

About midnight last night, the 14-ton lorry arrived in our camp. The drivers didn't want to wake anybody, so they slept inside the truck. Now it's about to be loaded with all our camping gear to take back to Nairobi. Although there's much to organize this morning, I'm amazed by how quickly our tent city has been dismantled. The kitchen is all packed up. The glassware's wrapped in newspaper for protection during the bumpy ride to Nairobi. And some of our extra food has been given to the local people, who seem happy about it and amused by all our activity.

In the photo, you see that the crew is pretty happy, too, even as they carefully load trays and many boxes of this year's discoveries into the small truck I'll drive - with great, great care - back to the museum in Nairobi. Each box and tray is cautiously placed, mattresses will act as cushions in between the trays, and two members of the crew will ride in back to make sure everything is secure during the trip.

Loading up the artifacts Tomorrow, the members of the crew will be paid their salaries, and two of our field vehicles will transport them safely back to their families in Machakos. A few of the others will travel immediately by bus to other parts of Kenya where they live.

It's been a truly satisfying season - excellent finds, interesting visitors, good talk and laughter around the mess table. One visitor, a Nairobi businessman, who looked in on us a couple weeks ago remarked that this type of work certainly isn't for everyone - actually, he said, "I don't envy you." He was talking about the hot sun, the dust, and hard work. And living in tents doesn't strike most people as a life of luxury. Yet there's much to cherish about the fieldwork, and I realize what a wonderful opportunity it is to live a couple months each year in such close proximity to the natural world. There's so much to see and experience.

Uncovering clues of an earlier way of life, ancient habitats where early humans lived and died, excites me no end. True, it's a slow and detailed process. But the fieldwork gives us an opportunity over the years to uncover more and more of the story of human origins. And I hope it has proved a valuable learning experience for you - hearing about our work, how we do it, and what we find. Discovering our place in the natural world: I can hardly think of a more interesting way to spend my time. Please let us know what you think.

Well, it's time to say goodbye to Kampi Safi for this season. Many thanks to all of you who have spent time with us, reading these dispatches from the field.