1999 Field Season: Day 3

June 27, 1999

Sunday is a day of rest in the camp, and although it really isn't necessary for us to rest after only being in the field for a day, it is good to get traditions started early. So the entire crew was given the day off. Many of the members decide to head into Magadi, the nearest town about 45 km to the south, for a day of fun. However, several of the research team members chose to use the day to prepare for tomorrow's dig.

Those of us that remained decided to retrace our steps from yesterday's geology hike. Upon reaching a particualrly deep and dangerous gully we refer to as "Hell Hole," we tracked along the floor of the gully until we found a trench from last year's expedition at a site known as A11-10 (short for Locality A, Geological Member 11, Site Number 10). Within this trench is exposed a layer of sand only half a meter thick, which is full of stone artifacts and bones. This site will be the focus of much attention during the first part of the excavations this season.

Hell Hole gully, a washout in the Olorgesailie Basin.
Hell Hole to the northwest. Graduate student John Finarelli for scale.
Facing to the south, Mt. Olorgesailie in the background.
Facing to the south, Mt. Olorgesailie in the background.

This layer is really composed of three smaller recognizable layers (labeled A, B and C for convenience), and is quite distinct in color and texture from the surrounding diatomite. Even in the thumbnail picture below, the C unit is visible -- the darker band, just above the backpacks. After a brief reconnaissance of the trench, we found new stone tools and bone fragments eroding out of the wall in large numbers. We decided to expand the area of excavation to the sides and deeper into the hill, following the sand layer. Carefully measuring out the distances and being sure to align the new sides of the trench with the old walls, we marked off the extension using a roll of twine and a couple of masonry nails. Sometimes, the simplest things work the best.

One of last year's trenches at site A11-10.

After mapping out the extension for this site, we moved on to the butchery site of the extinct elephant Elephas recki, Site 15. There we planned a new extension to the site (this will actually be the ninth extension of the site since it was first excavated). We plan to follow a series of enigmatic stones back into the southeastern wall of the trench. The stones are not from the immediate area, and they are not tools. They are too large to have been brought in by rivers or floods, and are concentrated right next to where the elephant skeleton was excavated. We know that the elephant site was in a marshy area when the early humans butchered the elephant 990,000 years ago. Could the early humans have brought these large stones in for a reason? Or is the apparent positioning of the stones just coincidental? This extension should shed light on this question.

After all of this and some administrative work back at the camp, a couple of members of the team chose to take a well deserved break to see the baboons. During the dry season here, there is a water hole at the foot of Mt. Olorgesailie, where the local troops of olive baboons (Papio anubis anubis) congregate at night. If the wind is still, we can sometimes hear them barking at each other during the night across the basin. We trekked across the Olorgesailie basin to see them, and it was worth the hike. A troop of about fifty baboons was just across the river gorge from our vantage point, about 100 meters away from us. While we enjoyed seeing them, they were not thrilled about seeing us, and many of the larger males made threatening barks at us until they were sure we weren't going to try to cross the gorge. In all, a splendid way to spend the early evening. A quick-paced hike back, and then time for dinner.

Tomorrow, the crew breaks up into teams, and excavation begins at four sites.

The olive baboons of Olorgesailie.
Olorgesailie baboons close up.