June 23, 2004

Kampi Safi is our research camp at Olorgesailie - and our home for the next two months. It's the starting point each day in our team's research. We're here to dig and look for stone tools, fossils, and geological clues about the early humans of this region, and how they lived and adapted to their surroundings over the past 1 million years or more.

The Kenyan crew and I arrived here this morning. Kampi Safi is located off the Magadi road about a mile south of the turnoff to the Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site, which is one of the outdoor Visitor Sites of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). "Kampi" means camp; "safi" is another Swahili word that means neat, sharp, cool - a name given to our home by our Kenyan crew.

The field crew

The crew's done a great job off-loading the big lorry (truck) that hauls all our tents, tables, excavation tools, books - you name it - to Olorgesailie from Nairobi (where it's all stored in the basement of the NMK). Today, it took about 2 hours, a little longer than a normal car ride, for the loaded lorry to grind its way up the shoulder of the rift and descend into the valley to our camp. Although Nairobi was rainy and chilly, warm sunshine greeted us in the southern Kenya rift valley.

Camp setup

It's an excellent day to begin setting up camp - and maybe you can tell from the photograph that camp begins on a large patch of barren ground. Just some tufts of grass, bushes, and one tall tree. That tall tree, which is the center of our camp, marks the kitchen area (or jiko in Swahili). And that's the first place where things happen. As soon as we arrive, the cooks wash rice, cut vegetables, and prepare a stew called safari njema (literally "good journey") for the mid-day meal as the rest of the crew puts up the tents and organizes their lives here for the next 7 weeks.

There are 28 men in the Kenyan crew this season, the largest number I've ever hired. We have a full agenda of excavation and geology, and the crew is excited about returning to the site where we discovered last year the first early human fossil to be found at Olorgesailie in 62 years of research and survey since Louis and Mary Leakey first explored the site (in 1942). I'm also excited that the journal Science, one of the premier scientific periodicals in the world, will be publishing our find on July 2. In fact, we'll begin posting these dispatches about this year's work on the web around that date.

I've been able to steal about an hour with Muteti Nume, the foreman of the crew and a long friend of mine. We visited the sites where we'll begin this season's work. But more on that later. For now, I've got to return to Nairobi to talk to the people who helped me to map the Olorgesailie region some years ago. Then on to Nairobi airport, where I'll collect Jennifer Clark, my lab assistant from the Smithsonian, and her 13-year old daughter, Jessica Clark - her first time to Africa. The plan is to return tomorrow and get settled for work and camping in the rift valley.