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Olorgesailie 2011 Field Season

2011 Field Blog

Day 40 (August 4, 2011): Closing Kampi Safi, the Start of Season 2, and Acknowledgements

Posted on August 4, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
portrait of Francis Ndiritu

August 4, 2011

The day started like any other day, with breakfast at 6:45. This morning the camp cooks made us a special farewell treat – French toast! – to go with our usual piece of papaya and coffee and tea.

After breakfast, we went to our respective tents and spent the next hour packing up belongings.  Within a few hours, the tents had been collapsed, neatly folded, and stowed away. Several truckloads were taken to the Site Museum, where we store some research equipment and tables. The kitchen was disassembled. Several... Read more

Day 39 (August 3, 2011): Closing BOK-2

Posted on August 3, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
Two women in a shaded area of the research camp, stand on opposite sides of a table sorting through many labeled plastic ziploc bags

August 3, 2011

Alison, John, Katie, and Wambua work to the last minute of the excavations at BOK-2. After a very productive season of over 2000 artifacts, it’s time to wrap up the excavations at BOK-2.  At one point, it seemed like the artifacts would never stop coming, no matter how far the team dug. Eventually, the excavators hit the grey tuff – you may recall (on Day 27) , Kay helped us determine that the grey tuff is part of an older layer (Member 9 of the Olorgesailie Formation). The team has now reached this older layer in... Read more

Day 38 (August 2, 2011): Rahab and the Phytoliths

Posted on August 2, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
Young woman in blue jeans, dark shirt and a hat sits high above on the top step of the geologic trench holding geological hammer

August 2, 2011

Paleobotanist, Rahab Kinyanjui We’re in our last few days of the field season, but research is still going full speed ahead. Joining us for these last few days is our Kenyan friend and paleobotanist, Ms. Rahab Kinyanjui.

Rahab was born and raised in Nakuru, Kenya. She attended primary school in Nakuru and high school in Thika.  Her science interests soared at the Kenyan Polytechnic, where she did a dissertation studying the archeology, pollen analysis, and reconstruction of a site in Nakuru called Hyrax Hill... Read more

Day 37 (August 1, 2011): A Day with the Teachers

Posted on August 1, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
interior of Paleontology Division storage and work area with many metal shelves of wooden trays and tables and counters near brightly lit windows.

August 1, 2011

The Louis Leakey Statue at the National Musuems of Kenya I drove back to Nairobi today for a morning with Kenyan teachers who are charged with teaching human evolution in secondary school. Human evolution is a required teaching assignment in Kenya for the Form 1 (9th grade) history course and the Form 4 (12th grade) biology course. I gave the opening keynote speech, and I was asked to relate our experiences at the Smithsonian in presenting human evolution to diverse public audiences in our Museum’s exhibition,... Read more

Day 36 (July 31, 2011): Putting the Beds to Bed

Posted on July 31, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
Unusual depression and runnel at Site 15

July 31, 2011

We’re close to the end of the field season – just a few more days left – and we’ve come to the end of one of our excavations, Site 15. If you read my dispatch on July 25th, you may recall that as we reached the base of the artifact layer, we couldn’t quite figure out what the cluster of large cobbles in one area of the dig was all about.  Why were the cobbles where they were – concentrated in one spot?

The water that rained on, or flowed across, the site as it was forming was probably pretty slow and... Read more

Day 35 (July 30, 2011): The Life of a Soil

Posted on July 30, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
a woman stand in a geologic trench facing into the greyish hillside writing notes. two large mounds of brown dirt, dug from the trench, are on either side of her

July 30, 2011

Naomi and I took the opportunity today to talk about ancient soils and what they can tell us.  The best way to do it was to take an excursion to the oldest soil we know of in the Olorgesailie region.  It’s at the very bottom of what we call Member 1 of the Olorgesailie Formation, and it’s very likely close to the oldest dated volcanic ash in the record of sediments – about 1.2 million years old.  As you may recall, Naomi is an isotope chemist and geologist, and her research goal here is to find carbonates formed... Read more

Day 34 (July 29, 2011): What’s the Point?

Posted on July 29, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
A black obsidian rock chipped into a tear dropped shaped form with the #1198 painted on it. It is approximately 3 cm in lenght

July 29, 2011

The road to becoming human was sometimes a dangerous one, and survival required sophisticated weapons. Here at Olorgesailie, the BOK-2 team has uncovered one of the first kinds of such weapons—the MSA point. 

The MSA, or Middle Stone Age, is the more recent of the two stone technologies we have a record of here at Olorgesailie. In our digs, the MSA is represented in a younger formation called the Oltulelei Formation, which lies on top of the older Olorgesailie Formation. This time period is the expertise of... Read more

Day 33 (July 28, 2011): Safari in Our Backyard

Posted on July 28, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
Two brightly colored (blue, green, and orange) Superb starlings sitting in the lower bare branches of bush

July 28, 2011

Kenya is known for its abundant wildlife, so much so that thousands of tourists from around the world travel here every year to see it for themselves. Today we’ll give you a front row seat of our daily safaris, right here at Olorgesailie.

Zebras, known locally as punda malia, which means “striped donkey” in Swahili. These are Burchell's, or common, zebra.  An Eland, the largest antelope in Africa, strolls by an area near the Site Museum


Gerenuks, such as this individual here, are often... Read more

Day 32 (July 27, 2011): Bernie and the Diatoms

Posted on July 27, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
a whitish color lake in the center of the image, in foreground: tan grassy ground with few sparse trees, in background: other side of the lake is blue rift wall, and blue sky

July 27, 2011

Once upon a time, this arid and dusty terrain was once the home of an ancient lake. Observations of the sediments show that water once filled the Olorgesailie basin. The paleo-lake was a major hotspot, attractive to wildlife and hominins. Therefore, reconstructing the lake and its environment is paramount in our understanding of the life that once lived here. 

Actually, we should use the plural ‘environments’ because the lake changed considerably over its history. The person who has helped us understand this... Read more

Day 31 (July 26, 2011): Climate Change or Earthquakes?

Posted on July 26, 2011 - 12:00am by pottsr
Aerial view of the Olorgesailie landscape with white and reddish brown sediment layers and deep channels and ravines cutting through them

July 26, 2011

One of the big-picture studies we do here at Olorgesailie focuses on how the landscape changed over time, all the way back to the beginning of the sediment record more than 1 million years ago.  This area of the southern Kenya Rift Valley has the most precisely dated record of archeological and fossil remains in the world for the past 1 million years.  There is only one major gap in the time sequence, between the Olorgesailie and Oltulelei Formations – a gap that resulted from widespread erosion in the region between... Read more