Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week 9 - Stone Tools and Rainbows

Hello everybody!

We have just finished our first week of archaeology, and it's been quite an eventful week.

Above, fully skinned palm nuts. Below, my hammer and anvil
       We started off on Monday trying to reproduce "hammer and anvil" stone technology employed by modern day chimpanzees. Chimps commonly use rocks to break open hard nuts in the wild. We simulated this by gathering palm nuts from the area and peeling them using local stones. Some Turkana do this regularly and with similar methods, as the meat of the palm nuts are very sweet and high in calories (they smell sort of like nutri-grain bars). Whenever I want a snack I open a drawer in the pantry, but they have to spend about 10 minutes skinning the palm nuts with stones!
An acheulean handaxe
      Later in the week we learned how to identify and analyze stone tools, which is difficult! A trained archaeologist can tell where a rock was hit, which side was facing away from the center of the rock, and if the shard has been sharpened by additional removals. The oldest stone tools look very primitive, sort of like rocks with a few chips off of one end. It isn't until about 1.7 million years ago that we start seeing more elaborate shaping of tools, such as Acheulean "handaxes".
Aiyangiyeng before the storm
      On Thursday we took a group trip to a dried up lake bed called Aiyangiyeng. Our professor, Sonia Harmand instructed us to go and look for stone tools on the ground. After a few minutes of looking, it became apparent that literally every rock was a stone tool. It's used as a training ground for archaeology students, and so the tools haven't been collected by any researchers. We flagged every tool we could find until we used all of our 200 flags and had to stop. After that, we started mapping the area, but it began to pour and we bolted for the lorry, climbing in sopping wet and laughing.
I couldn't take any pictures because my hand was too wet to touch my camera, but here's a picture of a similar rain storm that hit the compound on Wednesday.

According to our professor, this has been the most rain that she's ever seen in this region, and she's worked here for 13 years!
Wes giving me his best caveman face and showing off his work
       As fun as the week has been, the most memorable day by far was yesterday. We started off the day knapping stone tools (or at least trying to). Stone knapping is much more difficult than it appears. I had a lot of practicing to do before I could even produce a simple flake. There's a popular image of ancestral humans as block headed cave men, but they must have been pretty clever to produce some of the elaborate artifacts we find associated with them. We knapped on a special mat so that our professor could collect our debris. To prevent students from creating "archaeological" sites, all debris from stone knapping activity is destroyed.
        After spending the day banging fingers and hitting rocks, we put our tools to the test. In an effort to recreate what early man must have gone through, we butchered a goat using the tools that we made. I'll spare you the gory details, but suffice to say that our tools worked! Although I must say the thought of having to do that to a carcass while surrounded by hungry hyenas on the African savanna is still not appealing to me.
       Of course, we ate the spoils that evening after barbecuing them. The goat was tasty, and especially so after all that we went through. Also, a fellow student, Wes, cooked homemade barbecue sauce for the meat. Delicious.
       But the day didn't end there. Last night we went to a traditional Turkana dance. They didn't have any instruments, so all of the music was singing and clapping. Unfortunately, it was too dark to photograph, but a fun time was had for all.

       Today, we went to see the witch doctor who owns most of the camels and donkeys in this area. He explained some of the finer points of the marriage ritual to us, and also offered thirty camels for an American girl! There weren't any takers.
His camels returning for the night
But my personal favorite for this week was the rainbow that we saw on Wednesday. We were told about it during lecture, and everyone immediately rushed outside to see. I've never seen any rainbow even close.

All in all, a pretty amazing week. This will be my last blog post from Kenya. Tomorrow, we're waking up extra early and taking a camping trip to Nariokotome. We're getting back on Wednesday and leaving TBI on Saturday morning. I'll tell you all about it when I get back.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Your photo - the transformation to 'Post Africa' Roy is almost complete.

    Can't wait to hear your rendition of the dance music.

    Travel safe,