Ellis Locke—Buluk, Kenya #4: Out of the field and into the lab

Six weeks seem to have flown by, and suddenly I’ve left camp and returned to the lab. If the days in the field felt long, they pale in comparison to the long hours Ellen and I have been putting into the lab here at the Turakana Basin Institute (TBI). All of the fossil material we’ve accumulated over the last six weeks needs more precise identification, accessioning, and sorting for storage in the collections. While all the Buluk material belongs to the National Museum of Kenya, it will be housed at the Turkana Basin Institute here in Ileret, and the collections are literally being built as we go—what was an empty room yesterday is today full of shelves and drawers waiting to be filled with fossils from the Early Miocene.

Buluk, Kenya field camp

Farewell view of John Ekusi, camp manager

The few drawers that are currently empty won’t remain that way for long. While Ellen and I have returned to TBI to spend our last two weeks in Kenya identifying and curating the material that has been collected to date, the Buluk 2016 field season is still in full swing. Dr. Isaiah Nengo and four of his students from De Anza College in San Francisco have arrived to continue surveying and excavating until the beginning of September. If you’re interested in reading their thoughts as they undergo their first fieldwork experience at this remote but incredibly rich locality, they’ll be writing weekly blog posts, which can be found here: https://foundation.fhda.edu/blog.html.

Dr. Ellen Miller and Ellis Locke in the lab

Dr. Ellen Miller and yours truly, hard at work

Lab work is simultaneously thrilling and frustrating. Each new fossil is a puzzle waiting to be solved. Some, like the primates, are familiar to me, and the task of describing and comparing them to existing material is a complete delight. Others can stump me for hours, casting my comparative net wider and wider, before finally revealing themselves as, for example, a hyrax ankle bone.

Hyrax ankle bone

The hyrax bone in question

Slowly, but surely, a picture of the faunal community of Buluk is emerging, with its characteristic mixture of endemic and immigrant African fauna. The early relatives of some of the most iconic African animals, the big carnivores and elephants, existed here alongside the creodonts and anthracotheres, who are without living representatives. And amongst this diverse community of mammals lived early members of the ape and Old World monkey radiations. There are many unanswered questions about the paleobiology and paleoecology of these respective lineages, and the fossils from Buluk will play a critical role in answering them.

Signing off, for now,

Ellis

 

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