Hello from Langebaanweg!
I am Amy Shapiro, a teaching assistant for the ASU Paleoanthropology, Paleontology, and Paleoecology Field School in South Africa this summer. A total of ten undergraduate students, from ASU and seven other universities in “the states” along with faculty, have just started our fieldwork at Langebaanweg, a late Miocene/early Pliocene site (about 5.2 million years old) in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Langebaanweg is located in the West Coast Fossil Park (link to Google Map showing the location), an old phosphate mining area that was donated because of its rich fossil history and in order to rehabilitate the area after the mining operation was discontinued. The fossil park now has a number of objectives, including rehabilitation of the area with native plants, ongoing conservation of and research on the fossil beds, public education about the local fynbos environment—or natural shrubland or heathland vegetation occurring in a small belt of the Western Cape of South Africa—and the fossils found at the site, and increasing tourism to the site to further these goals. Since we are working in the park, our field school also mirrors the objectives of the park: we are teaching excavation techniques and fossil identification, but we are also teaching about the current fynbos environment and the importance of public education about the area.
Being a field school, our primary goal is not research but education. For most of the students this is their first, and perhaps only, trip to Africa, and experiencing the culture, wildlife, and histories of each are all-important to a successful field experience. With that in mind, we’ve had and are planning lots of excursions. While in Cape Town, we learned about the history of the area and its life at the IZIKO museums (including a musical workshop and army marching in honor of Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday) and saw the spectacular wildlife of the area at Boulder’s Beach, Cape Point, and Hout Bay in the Cape Peninsula. These all afforded exciting encounters with wildlife: at Boulders Beach we cozied up to the native African penguins (or “Jackass” penguins as they’re sometimes called due to their call that sounds like a donkey’s braying) and saw a Southern Right whale; at Cape Point we were surrounded by animals during lunch—not baboons, which often frequent the area, but African starlings, one of which grabbed an entire slice of pizza right out of my hand!; and at Hout Bay, we also saw Cape fur seals being hand-fed off the dock.
We are just starting our excavation, and I will keep you updated with all our exciting activities at the site!