In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Group photo

A group photo from the 2014 field season at Ledi-Geraru, Ethiopia

Hi! I am Kaye Reed (that’s me, fifth in from the left on the bottom row in the black shirt), and I am a paleontologist with a focus on paleoecology. I am also co-director of the Ledi-Geraru Research Project, which is a group of scientists and students who are looking for fossils—of hominins (ancient human ancestors) and other species—in the Afar of Ethiopia. The Afar is one of the driest, hottest, and dustiest places on earth—but one with MANY fossil exposures. The famous fossil skeleton “Lucy” (scientific name Australopithecus afarensis) was found in the region 40 years ago! (Read more about Lucy here.)

In order to have scientists, students, and Ethiopian officials in the field, we begin planning about six months in advance. For this story, I am going to tell you about getting ready to go to the field. In later entries, we will explain what we do in the field, and what we actually did on particular days.

Getting Ready

First, the team of scientists and students coordinate their flight arrivals into Addis Ababa from the U.S., Europe, and other parts of Africa so that everyone arrives at roughly the same time.

We have an Ethiopian camp crew that has been with us for many years. Before we leave for the field site, they make sure that tents are repaired and that we have enough blankets, and they begin to buy food for about 50 people for a six-week time period! Wait, you thought we were looking for fossils in the arid and desert-like Afar—so why do we need blankets? Sometimes it is in the 50s F at night, so it does get cold.

Camping gear

Mattresses, water containers, and chairs are strewn about the lawn waiting to be packed for use in the field.

This year, we planned to leave Addis Ababa on Saturday, February 1, at 6 am. BUT, the truck that was supposed to come and pack the gear to take to the field on Saturday didn’t come. Mesfin, our camp chief, had to find another truck at the last minute. That truck arrived at 7 am on Sunday morning, and we were all packed and ready to leave at 11:10 am. We got as far as the small town of Adaitu by 9 pm and spent the night in a “hotel.” The hotel consisted of beds, outside, all side-by-side with mosquito netting over them. And one thin sheet. Remember when I said that it gets cold at night? It was REALLY cold and I, for one, didn’t sleep more than two hours. They did make us a nice breakfast at 6 am, and we went to the campsite, which is about 30 minutes away from Adaitu along a dry riverbed called the Woranso.

Loading the lorry

The Ethiopian crew loads the huge truck (called a lorry in Ethiopia) with most of the camping gear. We also have land cruisers that take people and personal gear (clothes and special equipment) to the field.


Almost done

The lorry is almost packed and Mesfin, the camp chief, Bill Kimbel, and Ignacio Lazagabaster, a graduate student, discuss what is next.

While other people set up camp, Ramon Arrowsmith, a geologist from the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration, and I needed to go to see local government officials about getting letters to allow us to work in the region. We receive a permit from the federal government, and from the Afar Regional State, and from the local communities. Eight hours later, we were back in camp with all of the letters, and camp was miraculously set up! We had a nice dinner of spaghetti and then collapsed from tiredness into our tents.

We were now ready to look for fossils and evidence of archaeology!!

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