THREE C'S: COLLECTION,
CATALOGING, AND CLEANING
year-round funding, the need to prioritize which fossils to collect
would be minimized but for now, each evening images are analyzed
and decisions made about collection the following day. The collection
team has its own GPS instrument to locate the fossils, a digital
camera, aerial map and field book. Nasser Malit refers to all of
this as "cool stuff" (personal communication, October
24, 2004). In the field book information is recorded manually
that identifies element, species, geology, and GPS reading as a
backup. A picture showing the cairn and the small flag is taken
from several meters away to identify the geology. Then a close-up
for fossil identification is taken to support identification. As
a backup, the collection team marks the fossil's position on an
aerial photo with a pinprick. This system was used for many years,
but two problems were accuracy and difficulty managing the information
over a number of years. Imagine the thousands of pinpricks on hundreds
of aerial maps collected over three decades of digging at Koobi
Fora! High tech has dramatically altered the old process and allows
positive identification and a quick return to the location of fossils
the team found previously.
Leakey explains to Michael McGonigle how the fossil of a pig is
equipment may start the job of collection, but then each fossil
is carefully wrapped in common toilet tissue and placed securely
in a plastic bag for its trip back to the base camp. For larger
fossils that are partially buried, a hole much larger than the specimen
must be excavated. A hardener called Bedacryl is applied on the
exposed part of a fragile fossil before dental picks and artist's
brushes are used to remove excess soil.
other parts of a specimen might be located in the vicinity, searching
continues, especially if the fossil is hominin (i.e., human ancestor),
even though the likelihood of finding additional pieces is small.
In describing the necessity of following up with a tooth, Louise
wrote in a 2004 dispatch, "Sadly the remainder of this specimen
is likely to have washed away a long time ago but we will have to
do a hill crawl here to make quite sure of this." She described
a hill crawl as "putting the team in a long line and having
them work gradually across the surface turning over every stone
and looking for any possible pieces. It is too big an area to screen
immediately so we start this way
hill crawl and sieving (English term) or screening (American term)
usually happen after lunch. They take time and the chances of turning
up anything valuable are slim, but during the 2004 season one crew
member found half a "worn and weathered" molar (L.
Leakey, 2004 Dispatch, Week 4) and most of the other half was
found when screening.
the base camp meticulous care is taken in unwrapping the fossils.
Sizzling afternoon heat provides time for each fossil to be carefully
laid out in a small box, another digital image made, and numbers
derived from the field book are used to tag the specimen and entered
into a database. The fossils are carefully re-wrapped for storage,
with hominins stored in a special wooden box.
inventory, updated every evening, is made of fossils collected and
not collected. By the end of a season several databases exist that
back up one another.
Amman Madan at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, says,
"There is something magical about spending hours poring over
every square foot of land and then being able to pick up and hold
a part of the ancient past" (personal communication, June
Mike McGonigle and new friend wave goodbye.
Leakeys: A Biography, Mary Bowman-Kruhm.
©2005 by Mary Bowman-Kruhm. All rights reserved. Reproduced
with permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., Westport, CT.