Excavating an Elephant

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Yesterday, the Field School students got to take part in an excavation, giving them the opportunity to hone recently acquired skills and learn new ones. A fossil elephant skeleton had been eroding out of deposits near South Turkwel, only 30 minutes from the TBI compound. Previous Field Schools have worked at extracting the bones, but there was still material on the ground, so we headed out bright and early and got to work!

The site where the skeleton was eroding out was protected by previous excavators by a layer of sand and large rocks. The first step was to remove the rocks, a true team effort.

Francis, John, and Charles take a look at the site. The mound of flat stones is covering the elephant's fossil remains, keeping them safe from erosion and weathering.

John, Charles, and Francis take a look at the site. The mound of flat stones and sand is covering the elephant’s fossil remains, keeping them safe from erosion and weathering.

Stone removal, assembly line style.

Stone removal, assembly line style.

Once the stones were cleared, it was easier to see what we were dealing with.

Exciting things lie beneath this mount of dirt.

Exciting things lie beneath this mount of dirt.

The students got to work clearing the surface of small rocks, pebbles, and sand, all of which was screened for bone fragments.

Students collecting rocks to help clear the site.

Students collecting rocks to help clear the site.

Eloise and Maggie display great patience as they carefully pick through the screened material, looking for tiny fragments of bone.

Eloise and Maggie display great patience as they carefully pick through the screened material, looking for tiny fragments of bone.

Once the initial cleaning was done, students began to work in teams both to expose the skeletal material and level the site’s surface.

Lucy and Eloise use their trowels to make the rest of the site level with the skeleton.

Lucy and Stacey use their trowels to make the rest of the site level with the skeleton.

Students use delicate brushes to clean around the elephant bone.

Students use delicate brushes to clean around the elephant bone.

With careful and diligent work, the bone became easier and easier to see. It was enormous!

A clearer view of our find.

A clearer view of our find.

The students took a little break to re-hydrate and have some cookies.

Letty, Stacey, and Lucy enjoying their break.

Letty, Stacey, and Lucy enjoying their break.

Break time was over and the students were back at it! Tons of dirt from around the bone needed screening, and many graciously volunteered for this dusty and tedious task.

Katie and Trisha continue screening.

Katie and Trisha continue screening the backlog of dirt.

Katie and Abby continue the search for tiny bone fragments.

Katie and Abby continue the search for tiny bone fragments.

Dr. Jason Lewis watches his students working hard with obvious pride.

Dr. Jason Lewis watches his students working hard with obvious pride.

Progress!

Progress!

Soon the bone was fully exposed and our expert team of student osteologists identified it as a femur.

Alex takes in the impressive result of the day's hard work.

Alex takes in the impressive result of the day’s hard work.

Dr. Lewis, Francis, John, and Charles carefully loaded the very heavy femur into cushioned trays so we could transport them back to TBI-Turkwel for cleaning and processing. We headed back to campus for lunch feeling very satisfied after a morning of hard work!

By | 2017-01-04T18:04:51+00:00 October 26th, 2014|Field Schools|Comments Off on Excavating an Elephant

About the Author:

Hello! I am Abby Koppa, the TBI Field School TA for Fall 2014, a third-year PhD student at Stony Brook University in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, and a TBI Graduate Fellow. My research interests include the nutritional and mechanical properties of East African savanna plants, paleoecology, and hominin paleodiet.