Simen Oestmo: Week 1, Back to Mossel Bay—Warm weather, cool cheetahs, and “gun” problems

Warm and sunny weather welcomed us, the jet-lagged travelers, to lovely Mossel Bay this field season. Mossel Bay—known as the place where you can “enjoy” four seasons in five minutes—showed us her good side this first week. Of course, the visiting students really enjoyed it because we told them that it was going to cold and rainy! But we could not rest and enjoy the nice weather for long, because we came here in the name of science and not beach volleyball and swimsuits.

Kyle Brown (Mossel Bay field and lab director) and the local crew had done a considerable and fabulous job of setting up the site (Pinnacle Point Site 5-6) before field season. However, there are always tasks that need to be done the last minute before “inspection” by Professor Marean. Kyle, the local crew, and I spent Monday and Tuesday putting the finishing touches on the site so that when students came out on Wednesday, we could just start excavating.

The students used Monday and Tuesday in the lab sorting “overburden” material (useless stuff for analysis but with a lot of “goodies”) to become familiar with what material they could encounter while doing proper excavating on site. They also spent numerous hours getting information about countless topics from Professor Marean (whose “You see what I am saying?” is a familiar prompt to elicit a response from students). We also taught them to set up and run a total station using our hand-held computers. Everyone put in a good effort, and hopefully, we got more students interested because this is very important to our style of excavation.

cave excavation

PP5-6 Lower area picture: Excavation in progress in lower area. Note the custom made scaffolding. In the picture: Julie Fernandes, ASU (on the "gun"); Megan Stueve, ASU (in the hole); Cobus, local crew (on top of the scaffolding); Lwando, local crew (under the scaffolding).

When Wednesday finally arrived, we familiarized the students with the site and tried, as the day progressed, to get the total stations set up at the areas where we are going to focus on this field season. We are focusing in two areas: a lower area, prepared for excavation during last field season in May–June (Ben Schoville wrote a blog during that field season) and an upper area where we decided that more artifact samples were needed.

cave excavation

PP5-6 Upper area picture: Excavation in progress in upper area. In the picture, from far top left to right: Bonile, local crew; Kris Schwagerl, Gustav Adolphus College; Kevin Gierhahn, ASU; Elisabeth Culley, ASU.

The upper area also has some unsolved mysteries concerning stratigraphy (the study of rock and soil layers and layering). “Gun” (total station) placement proved difficult in the lower area, so excavation didn’t really start there until Friday. On the other hand, we had two full days—Thursday and Friday—in the upper area. The students seemed happy after this first week. Some were a bit sore from unusual sitting positions next to their excavation quads, but strained muscles were mostly from the stairs that need to be walked up and down each day to access the cave opening.

We capped off the week by traveling to the Cango Wildlife Ranch and the Cango Caves. Two highlights from this trip were petting cheetahs at the wildlife ranch and crawling through a near vertical, four-meter long, 35-cm wide cave shaft during a guided adventure tour deep within the Cango limestone caves.

Med vennelig hilsen (Norwegian for “best wishes”),


More info/bio on Simen Oestmo: Simen has an undergraduate degree in Archaeology from University of Tromsoe, Norway, and is originally from a small town called Fenstad, about 50 minutes outside Oslo, Norway. Simen is interested in the origins of modern human behavior, the Middle Stone Age in southern Africa, hunter-gatherer ecology, stone-tool technology and function, hearths, fire modified rock, and geoarchaeology. He will function as a “gunner” (total station operator) during this field season and is also in charge of the upper area of excavation. That means that Simen will be interpreting the stratigraphy on a daily basis so he can make sound decisions on where to put people to excavate. This is his sixth time to Mossel Bay since his first time in 2007. Simen is currently a graduate student at ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

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2 Responses to Simen Oestmo: Week 1, Back to Mossel Bay—Warm weather, cool cheetahs, and “gun” problems

  1. Herbert Roskind says:

    Simen’s blog was very good. We also liked the photos and the overall impressions of the students and the site. We are ready for some layman language technical data. We want to know what you are finding and what it means. Photos will help. Many thanks for keeping us informed.

  2. don johanson says:

    Hello all in Mossel Bay! I am currently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and preparing to leave to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat with a National Geographic Expeditions group. I will be lecturing on human origins in Asia and Africa as well as on Neanderthals and the emergence of Homo sapiens. The Mossel Bay work will figure prominently in the last presentation.

    Enjoyed the photos and update from the field….Simen, Tusend tack! Don Johanson

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