Do like a chimp do – the archaeology module gets off to a cracking start

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We are now down to the last two modules of this Spring’s field school. It’s been a wonderful journey so far; and the students have now been joined by Dr. Sonia Harmand, who is teaching the penultimate module – Archaeology.

On Monday, the students learned what archaeology is all about and discussed the ultimate question: What makes us human? For decades many archaeologists and anthropologists thought that a unique defining factor was the ability to use and produce tools. However, as the students also found, there are several non-human primates, and even other mammals and birds, that have also been observed manipulating stone tools and organic ones too.

Our relatives, the chimpanzees, are a classic example of this and they are very skilled at cracking oil palm and panda nuts using stone anvils and hammerstones to get to the tasty grub inside. During the afternoon, it was the students turn to try out the chimp technique on Doum Palm nuts down by the Turkwel River.

The first challenge was to collect the nuts from the tree.

Janina, Angela, Tiffany Erica and Kate discuss the best way to get the Doum nuts down.

Janina, Angela, Tiffany Erica and Kate discuss the best way to get the Doum nuts down.

"If I were only just a little taller" Kailie comments as she tried to reach the nuts by standing on a tree stump.

“If I were only just a little taller” Kailie comments as she tried to reach the nuts by standing on a tree stump.

And then it was time to look for some tools.

The students set off to look for suitable materials for hammerstones and anvils.

The students set off to look for suitable materials for hammerstones and anvils.

The Doum nuts are very hard to crack, so the students task was to peel the nuts so they could taste the outer flesh. This is something the Turkana do on a daily basis as the nuts  have a high nutritional value and constitute an important part of their diet.

Our students working very hard in the field school community nut peeling activity zone.

Our students working very hard in the field school community nut peeling activity zone.

After the students found their tool, they set to work on the nuts, many using different peeling methods.

Kate attempts the "hold-it-with-your feet" method

Kate attempts the “hold-it-with-your feet” method

Robyn used a piece of wood as a hammerstone, while Sarah uses a rock.

Robyn used a piece of wood as a hammerstone, while Sarah uses a rock.

It was no easy task, but with much perseverance the nuts were peeled and the students were able to taste the fleshy layer surrounding the nut. Some said it tasted like gingerbread… others, like date-flavoured sand paper; and others tried some unripe nuts by accident which resulted in some very amusing facial expressions. All in all, an afternoon very well spent! Stay tuned for more exciting news from Turkana!

 

By | 2017-01-04T18:04:55+00:00 March 6th, 2014|Field School|Comments Off on Do like a chimp do – the archaeology module gets off to a cracking start

About the Author:

Hi! I am Kat Warren and I am the Teaching Assistant for the Spring 2014 field school. While I am here I am also involved in the African Fossils Project (africanfossils.org) where I am 3D-scanning modern African fauna, fossils and archaeological material. I am a recent graduate in Archaeological Science from the University of Sheffield and my current interests lie in the evolution of cognition, and primate behaviour as a means to understand the cognitive frameworks of our earliest ancestors.