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.

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