1999 Field Season: Day 4

June 28, 1999

Excavation began in earnest today, although not exactly according to plan...

One of the important things in the field is to be flexible. Today, two guys on the team got sick, and some of our equipment broke and needed to be repaired in Nairobi, cutting the number of people available for work by four. So, we had to change our initial excavation plan.

We decided to have three teams start work at three promising sites found last year, including one where digging had already begun in 1998. They are close to Kampi Safi, and the excavation boundaries had already been marked, so being shorthanded wasn't be too bad.

This early stage of excavation mainly involves pick 'n' shovel work - moving large amounts of dirt and overburden. For instance, at the site called A11-10, which we marked out with nails and twine, almost 15m3 of dirt needs to be removed before the sand layers of interest are reached. Site A11-20, which was started last year but not completed, is another site we decided to work on. The third is the Elephant Site (Site 15), which will require a lot of dirt removal before reaching the paleosol (old soil layer) that contains the stone tools and elephant bones.

Clearing site A11-10 by pick and shovel.
Extending the trench at Site 15.

At the latter site, we began by cleaning up one of the old excavating trenches. We did this by cutting away the low grasses that had grown since the last extension trench was dug. And thus our first official fossil find of the season was made. A phalanx (toe bone) and a vertebra (backbone piece) of an antelope were found eroding out of the back wall of the old trench. They were highly fragmented, and all of the pieces could not be placed back together, although we were able to reconstruct them fairly completely. We are eager to see if more of the animal can be found in our new excavations. It looks like there might be something more than the fossil elephant at this site.

Bovid vertebra

From there, we decided to visit a place where excavation was scheduled to begin today, feeling that if we couldn't get it started, at least we could get an idea of the geology of the site and some idea of the artifacts and fossils to be found.

The site B8-1 before excavation.

The site is in Locality B, and designated B8-1. It is across the valley, about half an hour's rigorous hike from camp. Last year at this site, the fossil remains of several animals were found washing out of the river bend. We covered the site up last season with a layer of dirt to protect it. When we reached the site today, much of the dirt had been eroded away during the rainy season and so had re-exposed the fossils. Fortunately, no damage was done. But today's inspection furthered our resolve to excavate the site this season to prevent it being swept away in a strong storm. After setting up a square for excavation and another for learning the stratigraphy, we scouted out the hill behind site B8-1 for artifacts and fossils.

Fossils eroding out of rock at B8-1.
Mudcracks at Member 8.

In all, we started work at three sites, began recovering and reassembling fossils from two of the sites, hiked across the Olorgesailie Basin to scout out the site in Locality B, looked around on a hill for the source of stone tools discovered at the foot of the hill - and we still made it back in time for lunch.

Today was a good day.