I’m off to Ethiopia until July 20th!

So my big announcement I eluded to earlier is that I’ll be gone for the next six weeks on a paleontological dig in Ethiopia. Specifically, I have been invited to be a part of the Kesem Kebena Project. Paraphrased from my university’s website,

“the goal of the Kesem-Kebena project is to assess and salvage whatever archaeological and paleontological resources that lay in the way of destruction by construction activities, agriculture, population relocation, and other development associated with both the Kesem and Kebena reservoirs.

I’m really excited about this. I consider this is an opportunity of a lifetime. I hope we find some interesting fossils and artifacts — maybe perhaps something that can extend our understanding of human evolution and the fossil record. There’s a good chance we will. Ethiopia has perhaps the most complete record of human origins of any country, with a record of fossils and artifacts documenting human evolution from our earliest ancestors to the first members of our species, Homo sapiens.

Many famous paleoanthropological findings make up Ethiopia’s fossil record and here are some of them in no particular order:

  • Lucy, a 3.5-3.2 million year old fossil australopithecine found in the Hadar region of Ethiopia.
  • 4.4-million-year-old fossils of Ardipithecus ramidus.
  • The Bodo cranium, a 600,000-year-old cranium that is intermediate in shape between Homo erectus and H. sapiens, perhaps H. heidelbergensis.
  • Australopithecus garhi, a 2.5 million year old fossil found in the Awash River valley in the Afar region of Ethiopia.
  • Omo I and II, possible intermediate fossils related to Homo sapiens sapiens from the Kibish formation (~200,000/100,000 years ago) in the Omo Valley.
  • A one-million-year-old Homo cranium from the Danakil (Afar) depression.
  • Australopithecus anamensis dated from about 4.1 million years ago.

From what I understand, I’ll be doing a lot of hiking and surveying around the areas in between the Kesem River, which its dam is nearing completion, and the Kebena River, where a sister dam is planned for the future. These two rivers ultimately feed into the Awash river, the famous river where many of the above fossil hominids were found. I’ll be a bit south east from where all these hominid fossils were found, which can mean two things — undisturbed fossil beds or areas devoid of fossils. I’m hoping for undisturbed fossil beds.

We will be surveying Pliocene and Pleistocene sedimentary deposits. Paleontologically speaking, this is an interesting time for all sorts of evolution. In the Pliocene to Pleistocene epochs, we see a transition from the australopithecine hominids to the Homo lineage and the emergence of larger mammals, elsewhere — and I’ll be smack dab where that all happened!

Aside from the paleoanthropology, I am very very interested in Ethiopia culturally. You know when you know that something will be enchanting? That’s how I feel about Addis Ababa. I’ll spend a week or so there, maybe hit up the National Museum, and then move out of the city.

In the past, on the old Anthropology.net, I blogged about the Hamer, Surma, Mursi, Dassanech, and the Danakil cultures which border both Ethiopia and Kenya. These people are/were largely pastoralists and the interesting thing about them is their ‘forced’ transition to more sedentary lifestyles. I won’t be near most of them, though. These people are mostly in southern Ethiopia. Instead, I will be spending most of my time on the borders of the Amhara, Oromiya, and Afar people, which will be just as interesting, if not more, since I know little about the Amhara and the Oromiya.

There’s a good chance I will not either have time to blog and/or have internet access. I’m gonna do my best to blog when and if I have access, but just in case will keep an old fashioned field journal full of notes, thoughts, and drawings. I’ll transcribe and scan them into blog posts here when I have time. If you wanna keep up to date with my travels, your best bet is to check out my Tweets or my Flickr stream regularly because I’ll be uploading pictures as a backup there, and twittering is quick and easy blogging.

In my absence, I’ve invited half a dozen bloggers, some regular bloggers from the old Anthropology.net and some new ones, to help maintain, administer, and keep the blog active. I’m really humbled that they are willing to help out.

But, now I need to go.

See ya later,


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