Thursday, May 21, 2009

I am still reading my 30 year old book - Lucy. This has been an interesting week if you are interested in paleoanthropology. Here is one page of 376..

Howell was then only thirty-nine years old, but already had wide experience as a teacher and field worker. Unassuming and uncontroversial—notably so in a field that has long been dominated by flamboyant personalities—he avoided disputes and concentrated on rigorous site development. []

In the past a man going into the field would raise a little money, go out and find a few fossils and decide he needed a little geology done. So he would go home, raise a little more money and get a geologist. The next year he would realize he needed an archeologist, and so on. It was like putting patches on a pair of pants. Clark’s approach was totally different. He understood that proper field work needed a team of qualified experts from the start. People do this routinely today, but I have to give Clark the credit for instituting the multidisciplinary approach to site development.

A good example of this would be his work at Torralba and Ambrona, two sites in Spain that had been excavated on and off by a Spanish nobleman, an amateur who amused himself by digging up elephant bones. Clark brought a team there in 1961. []

He needed good dating, so he got a palynologist—an expert in recognizing fossil pollen grains—to do some sampling. He also got a geologist and an archeologist. They dug up the sites inch by inch, plotting everything they found on a series of maps that they made as they went down, anew map for every foot. They ended up with a three-dimensional picture of the whole thing, and were able to reconstruct what had happened there four hundred thousand years ago.

What a spot. Bands of Homo erectus would wait in the valleys between the hills for the big game herds that migrated south for the winter. They drove the game into swamps by setting grass fires. They even trapped elephants that way. The elephants got mired and the hunters were able to kill them. It is all there to be seen: the stone tools the hunters left lying around, the traces of burned grass, the animal fossils. There were a great many elephants, far too many to be accounted for by their getting stuck there by accident. Furthermore, their bones were all mixed up—proof that people had been chopping those elephants up and moving them around, smashing their bones to get at the marrow. []

FD: I remember reading that description in a Time Life book Mom and Dad had at the house.. I started cracking open fried chicken bones and eating the bone marrow. One of several bad habits ... and it lives on in one of my favorite Italian dishes - Osso Buco. Note that the co-author or ghost writer of Lucy is Maitland A. Edey, former editor of Time-Life Books and Life Magazine.
If one analyzes a pile of bones intelligently, one may learn some interesting things. For instance, one elephant Clark found was only half an elephant. Half its legs and ribs were lying by themselves in one place. The other half was gone. Since one does not find half an elephant dying in a swamp, it was obvious... THEN YOU TURN THE PAGE... and I am thinking about Fred Flintstone...
and I then see this one in the same Google image search.

No comments: