Archaeology Field Journal – June 24, 2007 – Day 16

The next morning, we woke at 6am. Kesoi’s wife brought us a basin of water so we could wash our faces and then she served us chai made with goat milk. Hands down my favorite cupper of the trip. The goat milk made the chai so sweet and creamy I didn’t need any sugar. We helped with some of the chores, mainly milking. Metian was wide awake and ready to play so I spent most of the morning playing catch with him and making him laugh with funny faces and over-exaggerated actions.

By 9am it was time for us to head back to camp. Kesoi loaded two donkeys with water and we collected the three goats we would slaughter later at the ngoma and hit the trail. It was a three-mile hike back to camp. The four girls in our group were tasked with herding the dozen or so donkeys while Kyle and I had it much easier with three goats. Herding is all about anticipating the animals movement and at the same time giving them the freedom they need so they don’t get spooked and run off; its tricky stuff. We arrived back at camp to find everyone preparing for the ngoma, Dr. Barhtelme and the other professors teased us saying that they’d finished an entire crate of Tusker beer while we’d been gone. I didn’t find it funny.

The ngoma was meant to be our big going away party. We weren’t about to leave Magadi without thanking our hosts for their hospitality. Kesoi had spent all week preparing the guest list while simultaneously working out a deal with Dr. Barthelme for the goats. As the celebration got underway and the Maasai began to arrive, Kyle and I donned our Maasai robes.

We looked dashing if I do say so myself. Kesoi had given each of us a necklace and a staff to complete the outfit. Maasai Eye for the Straight Guy. I think it could be a big hit. We greeted our guests as they arrived, the women stayed separate from the men, as is tradition. Kesoi and two other Maasai men suffocated the goats while we made stone tools out of obsidian and chert. Part of our final exercises in the field was to slaughter a goat using stone tools we had made. This was second nature to me. Last fall, I’d taken a class with Dr. Barthelme on Neanderthals and we’d slaughtered a sheep (if you skip back to November you can watch video of the sheep slaughter). I thought I was good, but the Maasai were amazing. In the time it took us to get the hide off our goat, they had finished two animals. Needless to say the fastest Goat Slaughter Award goes to Kesoi and his friends AGAIN this year.

Alex and Evans cooked up the meat with Alex’s special garlic lime sauce that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. The Maasai men like their meat salted and without any marinade so they stretched it across wooden skewers and grilled it over their own fire. After the men were served, food was taken to the women. I must have eaten half a goat.

After our meal, we grabbed a Frisbee and took Kesoi and five of the other Maasai men to teach them how to play. For being an uber-cool Maasai warrior, I expected Kesoi to be a natural at Frisbee, but he throws worse than my friend Elijah, and she’s BAD! I guess that when it comes to Frisbee throwing, Kyle and I are the Maasai warriors. We had to cut our game short ecause the dance was beginning. The men and women split into two groups; our girls looked smashing in their kongas and Maasai jewelry. Pretty soon everyone was dancing and singing and jumping around, it was wild! Even Metian was dancing and trying his best to jump like the older men. The celebration was an excellent conclusion to our two weeks in the field and a good attempt at thanking the Maasai for being such kind hosts. After the dance we posed for pictures and picked at the leftovers.

The final night was spent just like all the previous ones, on top of the Land Rover star gazing and talking with the girls. I was the last one to go to bed that night. Before I climbed in to my tent, I took one last look at the starry sky and savored a deep breath of Magadi air. I was going to miss Magadi. I’d met so many fascinating people and done so many things I never imagined I’d do. I’d traveled halfway around the world to the cradle of civilization and experienced two of the most amazing weeks of my life without electricity and running water. It had been one hell of an adventure, a test of both physical and mental endurance. It was time to take what I’d learned and head home. Understanding that, I climbed into my tent and called it a night.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 23, 2007 – Day 15

Woke up at 7am this morning with no archaeological work planned. We had delicious breakfast and then made trip into town for water, even grabbed a little extra this trip so we could wash our hair. With a clean head of hair, I didn’t think the day could get any better and boy was I in for a surpirse. As planned a few days prior, we were spending that night with our Maasai friend, Kesoi, and his family in their boma. After an early dinner, we packed a bag and Dr. Barthelme dropped us off at Kesoi’s just before sunset. The Maasai boma was a fascinating example of the way the Maasai use space and limited resources. We’d been to Kesoi’s several times before, but this was our first time inside the structure. The boma covers about an acre and is surrounded by a fence made of thorny bushes that work well at keeping predators out. At the center of the boma were three pens for the goats, sheep and cows and then encircling the pens were four manyattas, twig and cow dung huts where the families live. The manyattas are very small, standing only about 5 feet tall. They have one small door and no windows. Some light sneaks in through tiny holes in the construction, but most of the light inside comes from a candle or small fire. The inside of Kesoi’s manyatta contained two beds made of sticks and cowhide. Despite their rustic construction, they were quite comfortable.

As the sunset, the boma was enveloped in darkness. We talked with Kesoi and the children, doing our best to bridge the language barrier. William was a big help, and some of the older children had learned English and school so there wasn’t a complete barricade between us. I made friend’s with Kesoi’s three year old nephew, Metian, when I gave him my glow stick. He was fascinated by the lime green utensil and wandered around the boma waving it in front of his face. Kesoi’s wife served us chai made with cow’s milk, which was a step up from the powdered milk we’d been drinking at camp. Kesoi showed us some of his drawings he made in school, pictures that depicted a young warrior’s life in the Rift Valley. The drawings really helped me to understand how Kesoi saw the world when he was young. Absent were pictures of fast cars or dinosaurs or far away landscapes. Instead Kesoi had created finely detailed sketches of cheetah, zebra, giraffes and Maasai men and women performing daily routines such as herding or hunting. I was very impressed by our Maasai friend’s talent and encouraged him to continue drawing.

A while later, after Metian and the other the children had gone to bed, we practiced dancing with Kesoi, Mepukori and some of the young warriors and women. Our Maasai dance moves had improved since the wedding and after an hour of singing and dancing, I was feeling more than ready for tomorrow’s ngoma. About 11pm, things started to wind down and we all headed to our manyatta’s to get some sleep. As long as I’m alive I’ll never forget that night; eight thousand miles from home, sleeping under a stick and cow dung ceiling, lying on a bed of sticks, hearing the sounds of the animals outside, breathing in the smoky air, and reflecting on everything that had happened over the past two weeks. To say I was awestruck isn’t giving it enough credit. The experience was life changing, eye opening and awesome all at the same time and to top it all off I slept great.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 22, 2007 – Day 14

We returned to the Shompole region again today, our archaeology work for the day was at a new site named Oloika, which was an outcrop of rocks west of the conservation center. Again, this was another massive site, slightly bigger than Lenderut, much bigger than Oloololo and Olkena. As soon as we arrived we began finding bones all around the Land Rover; hippo teeth, tusks and a possible phalange. Dr. Barthelme wanted us to perform a site survey and see what we could uncover. For some reason I was completely knackered. The sky was overcast and the air temperature was in the low 90’s but I still had a hard time mustering the energy to work.

My hard work was rewarded with three finds; a hippo rib, which I was able to correctly identify, a modern donkey tooth, and a massive 16cm horn core. The stratigraphy of Oloika was quite interesting, a lot of gold and tan colored sediments. Most of the fossils seemed to be emerging from a sandy silt layer that was most likely the remnant of a prehistoric shoreline. The location was interesting because the High Magadi layer that is present everywhere else was absent here. Also the bones we were discovering at Oloika were belonged to animals that were much larger in size than previous sites.

On our way out of Shompole, we stopped at the conservation center for a quick lecture on the work that is performed by the park rangers. In theory, the center is a fantastic idea, but poor management, politics and short stockpiles of cash have created countless problems. Too many people are in it for the money and that’s not what it should be about. The environment is also fighting back as the current level of the swamps has cut off tourists from the newly constructed bandas and the park interior.

We stopped in Magadi town on our way back to camp to grab some supplies and cold sodas and were reunited with our favorite Maasai, William. It was a joy to have him back in camp that night. I spent the hour before sunset walking around the lake, it was perfect for clearing my head. Two more days and we head back to Nairobi. I can’t believe that our time here is almost up.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 21, 2007 – Day 13

Today we loaded up the Land Rover and headed far south to the volcano Shompole. Shompole straddles the Kenyan-Tanzanian border and rests just north of Lake Natron. Shompole is a massive peak, similar in size to the peaks in the Adirondack’s but much more rigid and menacing looking. It dominates the otherwise flat landscape of the park. We had plans to drive through the conservation area, but the rainy season this year left a majority of the park roads flooded. The flooding is good for the animals but bad for the local Maasai and the tourists.

We were able to get the Land Rover close to Lake Natron but we had to walk the last mile into Tanzania. A few of us hiked up a large hill that was nicknamed Little Shompole. It was a difficult climb, even with the assistance of the Maasai footpaths, but the view from the top was fantastic. Up and down the coast of Lake Natron, Maasai were herding cattle and sheep. The bells around their neck echoed off the mountainside and created an eerie chorus, it was quite surreal. It was very peaceful at the top and I would have loved to spend the entire afternoon atop Little Shompole writing, but lunchtime was drawing close and we were all famished.

On our way back, Kyle and I decided to jump a small stream rather than walk all the way around it. I made it just fine, even with my pack, Kyle on the other hand didn’t fare so well and took a disgusting mud bath. He saw the humor in it though, which was good. I would have been a lot more upset.

Back at camp we enjoyed a warm meal and then I spent the remainder of the evening with some of the girls on top of the Land Rover discussing Maasai life ways and our upcoming ngoma.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 20, 2007 – Day 12

Our day started with a quick trip to Oloololo to say our goodbyes and backfill the excavation squares. We marked the floor with plastic bags in case they require future excavation. We then hiked across the road, back to the new site we named Engilata to see if we could find any artifacts on the western escarpment. Our hike yielded no results and I think it’s safe to say that what we found in previous days was simply the result of erosion.

We returned to the Land Rover and headed back to Olkena to explore nearby the hot springs. Once again, simply passing through Olkena towards the lake was not easy work. The surface of the Olkena site, as I’ve said before, is littered with so many fascinating artifacts that its hard to lift your eyes off of the ground. I spotted a few ostrich eggshell beads and several chert flakes. The lake shore is located only about a half a mile to the west of the site. The walk was very enjoyable; we saw a large herd of wildebeests stampeding across the lake bed and hundreds of flamingos. Our walk took us all along the Olkena shoreline.

A bit later in the afternoon while relaxing with a game of Kenya poker, we caught wind of a scuffle over near our tent. I went to investigate only to discover that two Maasai hunting dogs had chased a hare through our tent. And when I say through I mean they tore through one side and out the other. This was the second tent Kyle and I had gone through, fortunately two rolls of duct tape had it back in working condition. Here’s hoping it holds for our final few days.

Archaeology Field Journal – June 19, 2007 – Day 11

Today our work was focused at a site near the ancient Lenderut volcano. In previous seasons, Lenderut had served as not only an archaeological site but also base camp. To get there we traveled through Magadi town and then south towards Tanzania. Along the way we stopped at a chert rock outcrop known as Bird Rock. This rock outcrop was featured in the film The Constant Gardener. Kyle took my picture striking the pose from the movie and we moved along. We saw a lot of wildebeests, zebra and giraffe along the way. The site itself is located in the middle of nowhere and I’m still not quite sure how Dr. Barthelme managed to find it. The Land Rover tore through the wilderness without any problems and I’m still shocked that we managed to go for so long without a flat. Fingers crossed our luck continues.

The Lenderut site, which is much larger than Oloololo, is a series of massive erosional ditches and hills covering acres of land littered with volcanic cobbles. The site is difficult to access, but has seen heavy foot traffic from Maasai and their livestock as witnessed the day we were there. This can have a dramatic effect on any surface items and can often aid in the forming what archaeologists fear, items known as ‘nature made stone tools’. These are items that take the shape of stone tools through natural processes of erosion. This process can happen anywhere there is human activity and heavy duty erosion. However, a trained eye can often discern the difference between nature made and man made.

While there is no definitive date for the Lenderut site, it is estimated that the site is younger than 700 KYA. Lenderut is an important site because it contains stone tools including flakes, scrappers and hand axes made of volcanic rock. Animal bones and teeth were also uncovered at the site. We spent the first part of the morning exploring the site on foot and familiarizing ourselves with the area. Doc had us pay particular attention for stone hand axes as several had been found in previous years. I didn’t have much luck, but a few other students did. Most of the hand axes were hewn from volcanic cobbles that littered the landscape so they’re often hard to distinguish from regular rocks. It takes a very trained eye to spot them. A few of the young Maasai warriors were in the area and they came to watch us work, however they were too shy to come and say hello.

After our initial exploration, we took a break beneath an acacia tree and discussed the paleoenvironment of Lenderut. We had paid special attention to the sediment deposits during our walk. Based on the placement of sediments and the grain size it is most likely that Lenderut was either a home to a delta or a big river. This would account for the massive amount of sedimentation at the site. The stratigraphy of the nearby volcano also reveals the fluctuating water level of the ancient lacustrian environment, but it was too distant for us to explore. The complex nature of the site and its stratigraphy make it difficult to interpret and future explorations may reveal more information. I enjoyed the Lenderut site for the artifacts it yielded, and it ranked number two on my list right behind Olkena.

For lunch we drove a ways to a small grove of trees where we parked the Land Rover and ate in the shade. There was about an hour and a half set aside for us to nap, an offer which I was more than happy to accept. We drove to the nearby Magadi hot springs and saw how the alkaline lake was fueled by underground springs. We returned to camp that afternoon and spent the rest of the day working on our papers and playing game after game of Kenya poker.