It is the end of the Archaeology module and our field school students have learned a lot about how stone tools are made. Now it is time to put this knowledge into real use! Stone knapping is not just banging rocks against each other. It takes a lot of practice and experience. The seemingly “simple” tool of early Homo are actually pretty hard to make, especially if you are a beginner. We started by selecting a good set of tools: hammer stones and cores. Hammer stones are usually rounded in shape and relatively hard and dense in its physical property. The shape and consistency of a core is essential to making stone tools. Large and relatively flat stones usually serve as good cores to start with. Consistency is another important aspect of a core. It is difficult to control your flaking if there are preexisting fractures or weak spots in a core. Even if you have the best material, if you are not careful about how you strike the core, you may still end up wasting a lot of good material! A good stone knapper has to keep all these things in mind!
Under the guidance of Dr. Harmand, we started our experiments with quartz pebbles, the most difficult material to knap. After a lot of lessons learned, we move on to a better material: phonolite. Phonolite is a kind of volcanic rock abundant in the Turkana Basin. A good phonolite makes a crispy percussion sound, hence the name. Phonolite has a lot of large internal grains, making it difficult to produce small artifacts. The best raw material we had was rhyolite. It flakes easily and has small internal grains. Indeed, the best flakes we produced were mostly from rhyolite. After a lot of experimenting and practicing, students successfully upgrade their stone knapping skills from chimpanzee level to Homo erectus level!
What do you do after you produce some sharp stone tools? A Paleolithic butchery! Although most of the tools we produced were flakes in various shapes (very little planning…), they were very sharp nonetheless. So to convince ourselves that these tools can cut through fur, skin and flesh, we had two goats that were already dead to process. We went through skinning, gutting and butchering only with our stone tools! We have proved ourselves that when used properly, stone tools can be as efficient as knifes and saws.
Graduation- 22 of November 2015
After successfully completing all our classes and field exercises, we had 14 new graduates from the Origins Field School! We were very honored to have Drs. Richard Leakey and Meave Leakey (founders of the Turkana Basin Institute) at our graduation ceremony. Dr. Richard Leakey gave an inspiring speech about the history and vision of the Origins Field School, and what TBI is doing to support science, education and clinical health in the Turkana Basin. We all felt incredibly proud to be part of it!
Eleven weeks have past and it is finally time to say bye. We have had many adventures in the Turkana Basin. We have shared so many moments of excitement and laughter. We have grown to know and respect each other. And we have become friends! It is not just about the time we spent in the classroom or in the field, but the time we spent together. Living in Kenya, whether at Mpala, Ileret or Turkwel, has given us an amazing opportunity to understand how diverse our living can be. Many students from previous Field Schools say that it is a life-changing experience. And I leave the stories to our own students to tell. Congratulations, Field School graduates! It is in the hope of all Field School instructors and staff that this unique learning experience will serve you well in your future endeavors!
P.S. We thank the Turkana Basin Institute, Stony Brook University and Mpala Wildlife Research staff for organizing and providing such a great learning opportunity. Our special thanks to all the instructors for their excellent teaching and field instructions. We thank Drs. Richard Leakey and Meave Leakey for congratulating our young graduates at the graduation ceremony. My special thanks for our Field School Director Linda Martin for her enormous support to Field School students and the Teaching Assistant.