We had a great week this week—Elandsfontein survey and mapping, student project presentations, a trip to a San cultural center, and finishing our excavation at Langebaanweg!
Last week I briefly touched on our Elandsfontein fieldwork: we were split into two groups doing roughly the same work in two different areas. Fossil material generally comes from a white “calcrete” horizon (revealed to be noncalcareous after decades of fieldwork) at the bottom of the sandy dunes and is associated with Acheulian handaxes and flakes (finally seeing some artifacts was really exciting for the students). We surface collected from fossiliferous areas in 5×5 meter squares, which were associated with a GPS point. We also mapped the “bays” (areas in between sand dunes) and the different horizons within the bays, such as the fossiliferous horizons, using a handheld computer/GPS. This experience was great for the students to become familiar with some of the technology that is being used in our field.
Since Elandsfontein is a private game park, where only 4×4 vehicles can travel, it was an interesting experience to get to and from the site. The students rode in an open-top land cruiser (see last week’s blog for a picture), which made for some cold rides in the mornings. The blankets provided by their driver, Carlos, were greatly appreciated. One morning, we had to take a detour after “chasing” a mother ostrich and her chicks down the road for 15 minutes: they continued in the road—we changed our course. This led us on a long journey on which we saw a huge pelican (like pterodactyl size) and a herd of Cape buffalo, the male of which was thinking about charging our vehicle, but luckily thought better of it!
The student projects were the culmination of two weeks of work on a wide range of topics relating to the fossil site—from education and tourism, to osteology, ecology, and paleontological research. I don’t want to go in depth into any of these since I won’t have space to cover them all, unfortunately, but they were very well-received by the Fossil Park staff, who say they influenced what will be done in the future of the Fossil Park and what information will be conveyed to visitors.
After a nice celebratory dinner, we woke up to a rainy day for our San cultural tour. Those familiar with hunter-gatherer communities will know the San, a group who historically inhabited much of southern Africa including Angola, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. Because it was pouring, we had to do much of “tour” inside, but our San guides showed us many San cultural materials and described (in one of the San languages, then translated) what they were used for and stories associated with them. My favorite was a tiny bow and arrow used by young men to shoot at women leaving a water hole—the women would feel a sting and see the tiny arrow on the ground, and then the man would appear to profess his admiration for her. If she kept the arrow, it meant she accepted his wooing; if she didn’t he should leave her alone! We also saw a fire (or smoke) started with two specially shaped sticks rubbing together. It was comforting to see how long it took the men to start the fire though—first one man, then two, then three tried before they could get it right!
So after a season of only a few weeks, we finished our last squares and cleaned up our site, with our goals met. We can now go and enjoy Kruger National Park, starting tomorrow! Wish us luck in seeing our Big Five!