Flickr Update

I’ve finished uploading all of my Africa pictures on to Originally I was going to go through and write a paragraph for each photo so you wouldn’t just be looking at pictures, you’d be learning about Africa as well. However, with 597 pictures uploaded, I just don’t have the time. What I’ll do is invite you to check out what I have so far, if you have any questions, simply post a comment on the picture asking for an explanation.

Check them out and enjoy!

Commercial Break

I was browsing my hard drive and stumbled across my final project for my “Monsters in Literature” class.  I’m so proud of this film so I thought I’d share it on here one more time.  If you haven’t seen it before, take a few minutes and check it out.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 18, 2007 – Day 10

A beautiful sunrise this morning followed by more work at Oloololo. Today was looking grim. We worked on our excavation squares all morning and found nothing. As the day dragged on we all began to doubt we’d find anything. I suggested we cut the walls and finish it up. As soon as Dr. Ngari swung the pickaxe to cut the north wall we discovered a rather large bone protruding into our excavation square. Bingo.

We immediately began clearing away the soil and discovered it was a zebra metapodial along with another shaft fragment. The zebra metapodial did not appear to contain any stone tool cut marks, but we did find two small holes that looked like canine marks. We added the artifacts to our site map, tagged and bagged them. We excavated the square all the way down to the Oloronga Green bed but did not manage to find anything else.

After a lunch of leftover goat, we sat down one on one with Dr. Barthelme and discussed our ten page papers for the course. I’ve been thinking about the topic since well before we arrived in Magadi. I found myself fascinated by the geology of the Rift Valley, something that peaked once we arrived in Magadi and I became familiar with the unique soil layers. My plan was to explore the way in which the geology of a site can help archaeologists recreate a paleoenvironment. Dr. B. gave me a few suggestions on where to focus my research and I felt more comfortable about writing the paper.

A while later Kesoi took us on a walking tour of the area. He led us west along the base of the ridge to check out some of the hyena dens. Let me be the first to say that Kesoi Ole Parseyio is one fearless Maasai. He literally crawled into the hyena dens to see if anyone was home and then began pulling out bone after bone for us to examine. One den yielded the remains of a porcupine and we all collected some quills to give out as gifts. The trail ended at a massive gorge that would be perfect for swimming in the rainy season. Jordan took this great picture of me showing off the dangerous side of archaeology.

We returned to camp for dinner, then we were out for the night.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 17, 2007 – Day 9

Definitely felt the strain at Oloololo today. Perhaps it was the day off yesterday, but I felt completely drained. More excavation, not much was unearthed unfortunately. We cleaned out a trench that was unearthed last year and expanded on the work that was performed.  The work was tough going, but I just kept my mind focused on our dinner celebration we had planned for later and I made it through.

After lunch, I made a trip into Magadi with Dr. Barthelme, Evans, Kesoi, and Katie. I was excited for this because it was my first on foot excursion in the mining town. The Magadi market was our destination, a small dusty lot with steel and cement stalls. We were there to pick up supplies for our goat roast with Kesoi and his family.

While Evans and Dr. B. shopped, I explored the market with Katie. I purchased a few kongas at a Maasai run shop, I had Kesoi’s help in picking out a konga that that a man would wear, now I’ll be all set for our ngoma next weekend. Kesoi ensured we got them at the special Maasai price of 200 shillingi so I bought him a Coke to thank him for the favor. With our groceries and supplies, we returned to camp for our first goat roast.

Today was our first goat roast. We had another one planned for our Ngoma out last weekend in Magadi, so this was sort of a practice session. Kesoi and Mepukori slaughtered a goat while we watched. They showed us how the Maasai suffocate the goat, which is the “kindest” way to kill it. They then made a small incision in the neck and collected the blood with a cup. Once that was done they systematically slaughtered the animal. I was fascinated how quickly and efficiently they took the goat apart. The meat made its way to our fire and soon we had a huge platter of goat in Alex’s special garlic sauce. The meat was tough to chew, you had to pick it up and eat it with your hands but it was very sweet tasting. I can say now that I’m a fan of goat. After a filling dinner and a round of Kenya poker, I was on top of the Land Rover star gazing and then off to bed.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 16, 2007 – Day 8

Finally, wash day. After more than a week in the field, working all day long in the dust and the dirt, Dr. Barthelme took us to a stream about two hours west from camp so we could bathe and wash our clothes. We picked up our Maasai friend, Mepukori, along the way, he had invited us to attend a Maasai wedding later in the day and we gladly accepted the offer. The drive was great, a lot of nice Rift Valley scenery. The sheer size of the Rift Valley always gets me, its just unbelievably massive. We heard a “scary story” along the way about a specific fly that lived in the region we were entering. This fly is called the Tsetse fly and if it bites you there is the possibility you may catch a very nasty “sleeping disease”. We saw a few of them; big brown nasty looking things, but we kept them off our skin.

The wash spot was a fast water stream that ran at the foot of a beautiful set of Rift Valley mountains. The lush green flora was a nice change from the harsher foliage of Magadi; in fact it reminded me a lot of what we left behind in Nairobi. We washed our clothes and then ourselves. I must have washed my hair three times and I still didn’t get all the dirt out. It felt great though knowing that you’d at least smell a little better than when you got there. John, Kyle and I took a hike upstream to view some of the towering stream side cliffs and see if we could find some baboons. No luck with the baboons. The time soon came for us to head out, but we couldn’t find Mepukori anywhere. It seemed we had misplaced our Maasai. When we couldn’t wait any longer, we left without him and headed back to the small town we’d passed along the way for a bit to eat.

Dr. Barthelme ordered us some cooked goat with onions and peppers and ugli. We all had a few Tuskers with lunch, they were warm but I didn’t care, Tusker is Tusker and a week with just water gets old quick. Mepukori finally met up with us, turns out he’d fallen asleep back at the stream. After lunch we headed to the Maasai wedding, which was on the way back to camp. When we first pulled up to the boma, I couldn’t believe how many Maasai were present, at least 80-100. They all looked amazing the way their ebony skin contrasted with the brilliant colors of the kongas. The children were drawn to us like magnets; some of them had never seen mzungu (white people) before. One man offered Dr. Barthelme some goats and donkeys for Jordan, but we decided to keep her because of her osteology skills. Another Maasai, an older woman, took us all one by one into the Maasai circle to dance. Can’t say I was very good, but I’m going to practice before our big ngoma next Sunday. As we left the wedding, a few of the Maasai children tried climbing into the Land Rover with us, it was adorable! We laughed and they cried. It was definitely an experience I’ll remember for a long time.

We headed back to camp late that night and managed to catch a beautiful sunset along the mountains where we had washed that day. Alex and Evans had dinner all ready for us by the time we returned to camp. I finished the night with a bit of stargazing on the Land Rover, a fitting end to a fantastic day.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 15, 2007 – Day 7

A new day at Oloololo began with a twofold plan; begin excavation on one of the grid squares and work towards finishing our site map. Kyle, William and I were tasked with the later. All the surface artifacts had been plotted the day before, now we just needed to shoot random points on the landscape in order to finish our contours. Our original estimate was that 17 shots would be sufficient enough, but we ended up shooting just over 40. Meanwhile, Jordan, Laura, Katie, John, and Magdalene began excavating the unit where we discovered the artifacts in situ yesterday. Sieving artifacts in Magadi High Bed matrix has got to be the messiest job known to man. It was dirty work but they they did good.

After our contour map was completed, my group was tasked with hiking back over to the Engilata site we discovered a few days before to get the GPS coordinates. It was a quick and easy task. We saw a few animals on the way; a giant secretary bird, a small dik-dik skittering up the western ridge and even a nest of eggs. The thing I love about working out in the African wilderness is that you never know what you are going to see from day to day. For example, when we leave camp in the morning, sometimes we’ll see zebra- a whole herd grazing next to the road, other days we’ll see a herd of giraffe watching us from behind the trees, or a herd of Maasai cows trampling down the road in front of us. Variation is the spice of life I guess, and I can’t think of a better place to experience variety.

We returned to Oloololo with the coordinates and with the little amount of time left, Dr. Barthelme gave us a square to excavate. Today will go down in history as the first day I wielded a trowel, right next to the discovery of electricity and the invention of the microprocessor. Unfortunately it was so late in the afternoon, I only got to work for a few minutes, but I cut through that matrix like a professional I can tell you that. Work will resume on Sunday, two days from now.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 14, 2007 – Day 6

Another day at Oloololo. After a beautiful sunrise, the sun dipped behind the clouds and took a break for the day. No complaints from the crew after battling through such harsh conditions yesterday. We added seven additional excavation units to the site just north of yesterdays survey area. We cited a dozen more artifacts, mostly articulated bone fragments. The big find of the day was a radius, a bovid tooth and a stone flake all in situ, very promising when you consider a good portion of the artifacts here aren’t in situ.

Lunch was a treat today as Alex and Evans, our cooks, had made pizza, which is quite impressive considering it was done without an oven. One word: delicious. John, William and Magdalene had never had pizza before and I’d never had it cooked on an open flame, so it was an experience for everyone.

After lunch, Kyle and William headed into Magadi with Dr. B while the rest of us stayed at camp. Doc had assigned us a walk around Little Magadi while he was gone so we could get familiar with the eastern portion of our campsite. We were also asked to keep an eye out for any bones we could use in our osteology lessons. With that in mind we set off. Along the way we spotted two towering termite mounds, one of them was over fifteen feet high! Doc informed us later that it had been there for several years and that that termite mounds can often serve as homes for several types of animals and insects. We saw several gazelle on the walk as well. We and were lucky to see where Little Magadi and Big Magadi are separated by a raised “floodplain”, which was quite a remarkable site. Our walk produced a few flamingo skeletons, a giraffe humerus and a few random articulated bones that belonged to gazelle.

Overall, a successful day.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 13, 2007 – Day 5

The sun was relentless today during our time at Oloololo. We arrived at the site shortly after 7am with plans to perform a site survey and collect samples. We established a grid around the most prospective areas, mainly the southern portion of the site. Excavations the previous year had revealed numerous faunal remains in this area; Dik-dik, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, Impala, Wildebeests, Zebra, and Leopard to name a few. Dr. Barthelme each assigned us an excavation square and we performed a site survey similar to the one we had performed at Olkena a few days earlier. We marked the most prospective materials with a white tag and a plastic baggy. The next step was to plot the items on graph paper using the alidade. I jumped at the opportunity to call the shots because I enjoy working with the alidade. We ended up shooting 29 artifacts of interest that day, things like eggshell fragments and articulated bones. By the time lunch rolled around I didn’t want to stop I had so much energy left in me. I think I was experiencing my first archaeological high.

On our way back to camp we stopped to give our Maasai night watchman, Mzee Olekukuu a ride. We have become a convenient mode of transportation for many of the local Maasai residing between camp and the site, but it’s the least we could do in return for their hospitality. The afternoon session was very low key; lunch, a nap and a crash course in faunal remains. We involved the Kenyatta students in a game of Frisbee later, which was a fantastic way to wind down the day. When the sun went down we roamed the campsite with flashlights and helped Dr. Barthelme catch spiders. Each night we manage to catch a few good specimens, some of them are quite large.

Tomorrow we are heading back to Oloololo to begin excavations. I can’t wait.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 12, 2007 – Day 4

Today we visited a new site, one that will be the focus of our research for a good part of the season. Oloololo is a real tongue twister. It is a Maasai word that means “around the corner”. Oloololo is located at the branch of the Lake Magadi, just north and around the corner from Olkena. Oloololo covers a 50 x 30m area; the site slopes upwards to the north and is bordered on the east by a large ridge. Heavy erosion has occurred to the south, completely removing the High Magadi Bed. The surface of the site is littered with subangular volcanic cobbles and erosion on the western side has revealed layers of stratigraphy. I know this is all a bit boring, but it’s important for understanding the site so bear with me. In the 2006 season, Oloololo bore the potential for a Late Stone Age occupation area. Excavations that year revealed the fossil remains of several animals including dik-dik, gazelle, impala, wildebeests, zebra and leopards. It was now our task to continue the research and determine if Oloololo was in fact once a place of hominid activity.

Our first order of the day was to explore the site and familiarize ourselves with the terrain. The recent rainy season had exposed many new bone fragments. We took special note of these, marking them with small piles of volcanic cobbles so we could locate them later. For efficiency purposes Dr. Barthelme had us split into two groups. His group headed north while my group, led by Dr. Ngari, crossed the dirt road and headed for the western ridge. Along the way we were to keep our eyes glued firmly to the ground, searching for bones and stones that may indicate more potential sites. We covered roughly 3km and unfortunately we didn’t find much. At the base of the ridge we found a strip of stone fragments and eggshell fragments extending roughly 50 feet. None of the pieces appeared to be the result of human manufacturing and our search did not reveal any eggshell beads. The area of deposition seemed to indicate that the items had simply washed down hill. The day was hot and we were growing tired quickly so we headed back to camp for lunch.

That afternoon we broke out the alidade and the dumpy, two instruments used for surveying. Surveying is a basic skill that any archaeologist should have under their belt and while more archaeologists nowadays use laser transits, we were just fine with our older methods. The way I see it, if you can do it the hard way, you can do it the easy way. I was glad to see that a few things from Dr. Weets archaeology class in the fall had stuck with me. By the end of the lesson I was ready to survey with the best of them. The remainder of the night was spent around camp. I accompanied Jordan and Laura on a walk over to the outcrop from a few days before. It’s an archaeologists dream to have a bone yard in your back yard and I enjoyed finding several more bone fragments. More archaeology tomorrow.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 11, 2007 – Day 3

Our destination today was Olkena. Located northwest of our camp only a kilometer from the present day Lake Magadi floodplain, Olkena is a fascinating site for any archaeologist because the surface is littered with stone artifacts. These artifacts include blades, cores, drills, and scrappers prepared from white Magadi chert, quartz and obsidian. This site is also littered with shell fragments and ostrich eggshell beads, direct evidence of hominid activity. I couldn’t believe my eyes; the second we stepped out of the Rover we were finding artifacts. We worked with Dr. Ngari to establish four 5 x 5m grid squares over a prospective area. We did a surface survey of the site, moving in groups of three across the surface collecting every artifact we saw. We had to be cautious when moving rocks because scorpions like to hide underneath them. The last thing I wanted on this trip was a scorpion sting. After surveying the four squares, we performed a surface scrape of the most prospective square. This involved using trowels and hand brooms to collect all of the surface material. It was placed in buckets and then moved to a separate area and put through a 2mm screen sieve. Our efforts were rewarded with more eggshell beads, ones that we had missed on our initial survey. We increased our survey area by adding two more 5 x 5m squares and performed two more surveys and scrapes with the remaining time. When 12 o’clock rolled around, we packed up our things and headed back to camp for a meal and a nap. The sunlight was so intense during the 12-3 hours that we couldn’t perform any work without exhausting ourselves. Instead, we’d spend each day at those times napping, writing in our journals or playing a great little game called Kenya poker. It’s fun, but I’m not so good. After our break we setup up some tables and sorted the items we had collected that morning. Rough sorting is solely based on ones personal taste. Some people sorted their artifact collections based on materials: chert, obsidian, quartz, bone, etc. Others separated their materials by type of tool: scrapper, drill, crescent, flake, core, etc. No matter which way you sort it in the end you are left with piles of potentials and piles of junk. We rebagged the materials and then stretched our legs with a hike around Little Magadi led by Dr. Ngari.

Our walk took us across the calcite crust that surrounds the lake. Up close, the crust is snow white and crusty, but occasionally you find beautiful swirls of pink and green from the algae. Each step forces a greenish brown liquid up through the cracks of the surface, you sometimes feel as if you are walking on the surface of another planet. It is a surreal site.

On the walk back to camp, I stumbled upon an intriguing stone artifact. At first it appeared to be a large, pink stone tongue. But once it was in my hands and I felt it, I knew it was a sharpening stone. I took it with us and showed it to a few people back at camp. Dr. Ngari and Dr. Barthelme both guessed that it belonged to Maasai so I decided to ask Kesoi, our Maasai friend what he thought. Kesoi looked at it, said something in Maasai and then commented that he could really use one. I could only laugh. Though it wasn’t 80,000 years old, I was still happy with my find.

Better luck tomorrow.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 10, 2007 – Day 2

Each of our days began at 6am. Since we didn’t have alarm clocks, Dr. Barthelme was kind enough to wake us with the sweet sounds of his harmonica each morning. I slept like a rock. Whether it was the fresh African air, the nighttime sounds or the Malaria medication I don’t know, but I always slept right through the night. On our first full day in the field we had many things planned. The first was an examination of the local geology. Dr. Shadrack Murimi and Dr. Lazarus Ngari were the assistant professors on our trip. They both teach at Kenyatta University in Nairobi and helped us better understand the geology and archaeology of southern Kenya. That morning they took us to some nearby rock outcrops to study the stratigraphy of the area. We studied two outcrops, examining the color, texture, sediment and thickness of each layer of soil. Any archaeologist knows that the geology of a site is integral in understanding the paleoenvironment. For example, sandy sediments can indicate that a site was once home to shallow water or a beach. On the other hand, very fine-grained sediments usually indicate a deep-water paleoenvironment. During our study we came across many fossil bones that had eroded out of the outcrops during the wet season. Some of these bones were articulated and the osteology students in our group did good work deciphering what they belonged to. Many of the bones belonged to zebra and gazelle, though there was one giraffe as well. We stumbled upon a more recent carcass near our second rock outcrop. Recent as in last night. It seemed one of the Maasai boys had forgotten a goat and that goat had ended up a meal for a local carnivore. We took the opportunity to study the tracks and the condition of the carcass. Our Maasai student, William, helped us to decipher the crime scene and later reports indicated that it was most likely a family of cheetah, two adults and thee cubs, that committed the act. Olekukuu reported that on his walk he had seen the felines on the nearby ridge. We were told not to worry, but walks alone were henceforth prohibited.

After our geology lesson, our next order of business was a trip to church; A.C.K. St. Barnabas’ Komii Church was celebrating their first anniversary and as I mentioned previously we were invited as special guests. We loaded up the Land Rover, learning that despite having seven seats fitting 13 people inside is no problem. At the church we were welcomed by Rev. Ogonji and the local Maasai. The men and women were very friendly, anxious to shake our hands and greet us in Maasia, “Sopai” The children are not allowed to shake hands, rather they bow their heads as a sign of respect and you respond by placing your hand on their head. The children were so cute and they were incredibly curious about us. The Reverend treated us all to a soda and then we moved inside the church for the celebration. Mind you, this isn’t a church like most of you are used to; merely a cement foundation with steel sheet walls and a roof. The church doubles as a schoolhouse so the walls are filled with children’s drawings, giving it a very unique appearance. There was plenty of singing and dancing during the ceremony, everyone seemed very happy to be there, despite the heat and lack of seating. Dr. Barthelme made a speech and thanked the community for their hospitality over the years. I sensed that he was a very well respected man in these parts based on the overall response from the Maasai. At lunchtime, we bid our new friends goodbye and returned to camp for lunch and an osteology lesson at the outcrop from the morning. I was fortunate and found a cluster of bones that belonged to a prehistoric bovid while the others came across teeth, horn cores and various other articulated bones. It was an informative lesson, but by 6 o’clock we were all ready for dinner. Another great meal and some stargazing on the Land Rover and I was ready to hit the sack.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 9, 2007 – Day 1

Our journey to Magadi began bright and early. It was a very cool morning, quite cloudy with the potential for a shower any minute. We quickly packed our bags and the field equipment into a rented lorry and the Land Rover, before saying our goodbyes to everyone in the compound. By 9:30 we were on the road, heading south through Karen into the Rift Valley. The lorry had 8 seats in the back of the trailer so we had a fantastic view the entire ride. We traveled on the same road we had taken to Olorgesailie a few days before and as we progressed the weather of the Rift Valley began to reveal itself. We left the clouds behind in Karen and were welcomed by dry gusty winds and warm afternoon sun. Pretty soon we were all sweating. The lorry died a few times on the road to Magadi so we constantly had to get out and push. Dr. Barthelme wasn’t very pleased that our porters would bring a vehicle with a faulty starter into the wilderness and who can blame him. Even with the delays we made it in good time, arriving in just over three hours.

Magadi is a very small town located right on the shore of Lake Magadi, a sodium bicarbonate lake covering around 100 square kilometers. Magadi is a mining town of sorts as a large factory there processes soda ash from the lake. This soda ash can be used for making various glass products, especially soda bottles. A new plant constructed in 2006 promises to produce an even higher quality soda ash, one that could be used for making eyeglasses and even fiber optics. However, due to technical difficulties, the plant is not yet operational. During the dry season, the lake is 80% covered soda so this isn’t the kind of lake you would want to swim in. First, there is the awful smell of sulfur that permeates the air. Second the lake is too warm. You see Magadi is fed by hot springs that constantly refuel it with salinated water from deep within the earth. The water temperature at these springs can hover around 200 degrees. The lake is home to a single species of small fish that have adapted to the extreme temperatures, Alcolapia grahami, as well as flamingos.

Our camp was located north east of the Magadi town, about a forty-minute drive through the bush. When we first arrived I could not believe how beautiful it was. Our camp was located at the edge of Little Magadi at the base of a 200-foot cliff. Rolling hills dotted with volcanic rocks surrounded us to the east and the south while small grove of trees provided shade in the afternoon. We wasted no time breaking camp. We used machetes to cut the grass down, then set up our tents. I joined Dr. Barthelme and Evans, our assistant cook, on a water run. The tank was located 30 minutes west at a small church/school house. It took ages to fill the tanks in the back of the Land Rover, but Dr. Barthelme took the time to explain some of the land features to me and the local Maasai children also kept us company. We also chatted with the Pastor of the church, Rev. James Haggai Onyango Ogonji, a kind and intelligent man who invited us to attend the church’s 1st anniversary on the following day. We accepted the invitation and then headed back to camp with the water.

That night, Alex prepared what would be the first of many great meals in the field. We had salad, potatoes, ugli, which is a dish that looks like mashed up rice, stew with beef and vegetables, and even fresh fruit. Not bad considering I was expected to eat beans and rice for the full two weeks. Our Maasai watch man, Mzee Olekukuu, joined us later that evening. Olekukuu has been a part of the team for 12 years. He is somewhere in his early eighties and has four wives. It is quite common for Maasai men to have more than one wife, especially one as old and as wealthy as Olekukuu.

That night I sat on top of the Land Rover and enjoyed the stars of the southern hemisphere, which I had never seen before. Without the lights from nearby cities it was absolutely breathtaking. I headed to bed around 9PM, anxious for the next day.


After twenty four hours of travel and nearly two days of being awake, I’m back in New York safe and sound. I’m going to take the next few days off and catch up on my sleep, but expect journal entries from my time in the field as well as plenty of pictures. I miss Kenya a lot, but it’s good to be back.

Watertown Man Proves Doctors Wrong

I’ve known Jimmy Yonkovig since before I can remember. We spent many days together as kids pretending we were He-Man or practicing our Michael Jackson dance moves. When Jimmy was injured in a car accident in 2005, it was a very dark time for all who knew him. Facing difficult odds, he has come quite a ways since that fateful day. I was delighted to find a story about him in my email inbox. Please take the time to read it.

From 7 News:

Thursday, June 28, 2007, 2:35pm

On November 10, 2005, James Yonkovig was critically injured in a two car accident in the town of Watertown.

Jimmy, as he’s known to his friends, suffered severe head injuries in the crash and was hospitalized in Syracuse.

“The neurosurgeon there told us we could never expect anything from him, that he probably wouldn’t walk and wouldn’t talk and we couldn’t expect great things. It really made me furious,” said Jimmy’s mother, Gretchen Rowland.

Gretchen said she’d like to show that doctor just how wrong he was.

After a year and a half of recovery, Jimmy can not only walk, but he can also talk.

He speaks with the aid of a Servox artificial larynx (pictured above).

“If I had given up, I’d be a vegetable forever,” Jimmy said.

On Wednesday, Jimmy was released from Watertown’s Samaritan Keep Home, where he had been recovering for a year.

The staff joined family and friends in wishing the 27 year old Watertown man well as he prepared to go home.

Jimmy and his mother hope his story inspires others.

“Anyone that has something like this happen to them, I don’t want them to give up. I want them to keep going,” said Jimmy.

His mother echoed the sentiment.

“There is no such thing as ‘can’t’ because the minute you say you can’t do something, you’ve defeated yourself,” said Gretchen.

Jimmy has lived by those words for more than a year. With the help of his family, friends and therapists, he’s moving on to enjoy the life he fought so hard to get back.