Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Love of Africa

I know now that for the rest of my life, I will be trying to get back to this place as much as possible. Not necessarily Turkana, but the other parts as well that I have not yet seen. I really am beginning to fall in love with Africa. The sunrises and sunsets here are unlike any other. At the conclusion of an especially windy day, the sands are in the air and the sun lights up the sky in a crimson orange unlike anything I have ever seen. Whats more, are the rains. For the first time since we have been here, it rained and the face and mood of the environment was deeply changed. No longer was the sand whipping about in dust devils. The rich smell of earth and wood was everywhere and the cool breeze was blowing. Once the rain started it continued throughout the day, and every living thing gave off the impression of utter dependence on this process. Every insect, every bird, every plant and every tree was making the most of this brief moment of moisture. The smallest insects emerge to feed and mate while the larger ones come out to hunt feed on the smaller. The Acacia tree will bloom, if only briefly, in a small puff ball of a flower, and the landscape will become briefly green and verdant in spots, with no memory of the dry semi-desert it once was. Fortunately, we were able to go on a field trip once the rains died down, as there is a risk of flash floods and general sogginess, to collect insects and observe the Kerio delta wetlands. Once we had piled into the to small boat in the to shallow water with far to many people, we set off mud covered and happy. we saw some amazing birds and insects. In fact, some were to amazing, with comments from Dino Martins, like "see that tiny insect floating there, that's very deadly".
This ecology module which we just concluded truly was fantastic though. With Dino, we were able to study and observe some amazing interactions. The biodiversity in such a hostel environment is astounding. Within a single acacia tree, there can be a multitude of interactions taking place between ants, bees, birds and so much more. The delicate web of this environment is dependent of so many things, foremost being water. As we could clearly see, rain is treasured but scarce. All this fantastic Wonderfulness, as there is no more proper or fitting way do describe it, is continually threatened by things like dams (one is being proposed in Ethiopia which would cut off more than two thirds of the water supply to lake Turkana) and overgrazing. I hope with all my heart, as I am beginning to ask what I myself can do about it, that these harmful processes can be averted through simple education and conservation.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Another Course, Another Adventure.

Time does fly doesn't it? Nearly a month has passed since our arrival, and so much has happened as to throw ones perspective off. It goes without saying, that I continue to be amazed here. Our course with Cara and Meave came to an end today, but the amount of information that I feel I have gained is vastly, mind bogglingly huge (much like space, to qoute Douglas Adams). I feel now that I have a much greater understanding of these once distant concepts. The experience of learning here, is far removed from that back home, in the comfort of a classroom. I feel now, that I couldn't have learned this properly anywhere else. I have seen the places that many of these fossils were excavated. Our earliest ancestors and extinct contemporaries were living and breathing right beneath my feet and I have the luck of understanding and studying humanities origins through their remains.
The other day, we heard from Dr. leaky specifically on the discovery and nature of Homo erectus and the "Turkana Boy", but also on the broader subject and nature of paleoanthropology itself. He talked about all of this, all of the science and the technicalities, all of the identification and naming we carry out, is really all to better understand ourselves. What are we and how did we become that way? It is certainly a testament to our constant ability to question and learn, both from what we know to be true and what we think we know to be true. Many problems have been caused by humanity confusing one with the other. Anyway, Dr. leaky had some very interesting points to make and it was obvious that one really should listen and learn from it. As he was speaking, he mentioned once or twice the bias science can hold against certain ideas. In context, this was about human ancestors migrating out of Africa and our origins all pointing back there, which they incontrovertibly do. Still however, the outspoken denial of such an idea can become heated. When first introduced to the scientific world,an all European and all incredibly ethnocentric one at that, the idea of African human origins seemed preposterous. Even genetics points to this outward migration, in all humans. I am rambling on a bit, but I hope that the frustration is obvious. People become confortable and stuck in the idea of perminance, especially of ideas, and it is often very hard to reason otherwise.
On another note, we got to experience the discovery of what we assumed at the time was a hominid fossil with Meave yesterday. We searched around it, up and down the hill and all around looking for more pieces, but none turned up. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm may have been for naught, simply because Dr. Leaky(Richard, not Meave) is convinced it is a crocodile pelvise, not a hominid and given that he is pretty convincing when it comes to these sorts of things, it most likely is. It was disappointing, but perhaps the jurry is still out on that one, we'll see. Maybe next post well know for sure, so try not to hold on to your seats in anticipation.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lothagam, Central Island, Elia Springs and More.

Well, I can now say I've slaughtered and eaten a goat. That certainly was an experience. A lot has happened since I last posted. Unfortunately, limited computer use and unpredictable internet can cause delays, and I apologise for taking so long. In the end though I think that it becomes hard to draw ones self away from this place long enough to write.
We recently ended our geology course with Craig Feibel, coming away with enormous insight into the local geology and history. During that course, we took many fieldtrips, including a volcanic island in lake Turkana. the lake within it had the most emerald green color you could imagine, and the most salty and disgusting taste that you probubley would rather not. The point from which we left for the island is a resort called Elia springs. This was technically our day off, so we were able to kick back and relax for a bit here. Cold beers and relaxing water were memories that non of us will soon forget. It was like a little oasis on the edge of the lake, and we had a wonderful time.
At the other end of the spectrum was our overnight trip to Lothagam hill. Wonderful views were a staple and it had many. Amazing archaeology and burials were plentiful, but cold beers and water, there absolutely was not. At certain points along our trek it was if we were hiking across the Martian Tundra, with temperatures reaching at least 110. It was amazing, beautiful and deadly. I would not have given it up for the world. Maybe for a cold drink though. Sleeping out under the stars offered an incredible experience, to be sure and food and water never tasted so good as when you need it most.
Ultimately, our course came to an end, with Craig leaving and Cara Johnson coming in to take his place. In "Paleoanthropological discoveries of the Turkana basin" she and Meave leaky are teaching us about early Hominin evolution and history. So far, the courses are different, but informative and interesting. Our most recent field trip to Lothodok and Kalodirr, we searched for fossils along various rock formations. It really does put all these amazing discoveries into perspective, in that one must search in sun and heat for things that really do resemble small rocks. It can be very tedious and stressful, but always interesting for sure. If anything revolutionary turns up, then I certainly write about it. Hopefully Ill be posting again soon, so see you then!