A trip to Buluk on Monday morning marked the start of our last week studying Vertebrate Paleontology. The middle Miocene site of Buluk sits on basaltic sediments dated to about 16mya. The faunal interchange during the early Miocene, as a result of a terrestrial connection between Eurasia and Africa, was the main factor that brought about mammalian diversity. Our first fossil hunting expedition was at Dead Elephant Valley. The bones here are deposited in ancient channels (white sediments), with overlying red soils that signify ancient floodplains. Fossil fauna present at the site includes elephants, rhinos, and crocodiles. Our afternoon expedition ended with a walk through a petrified forest.
The following days were spent at Shadracks’ and Big Sieve sites, respectively. Students crawled on the hills looking for fossils. As emphasized by Dr. Miller, hill crawling gives one a better view of the ground, and the ability to identify small fossils like primate teeth. Students collected fossils representing many of the mammalian orders, such as Primates, Tragulids, Perissodactyls, Proboscideans, and Carnivores.
The highlight of the trip was plastering fragile fossils. Under the guidance of Dr. Miller, Sale, Woto and their T.A., students successfully excavated the fossil humerus of a rhino and an elephant mandible using picks and brushes. Excavating fossils is a delicate process; one has to excavate around the edges fossils to isolate them from the matrix, and crumbling pieces are glued together to harden the fossil. Wet paper towels are used to cover the fossil to protect it from the plaster. Plaster coated strips are then placed on top and left to dry to form a jacket that holds the fossil together.
We returned to our Ileret campus on Thursday morning, where students had the chance to unwrap and analyze some of the fossils they collected from the field. Later on, they sat for their end-of-course exams, and are now ready for the next module.