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.

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