Ethiopia

A team of researchers lead by Paleobotanist Bonnie Jacobs and Sedimentologist Neil Tabor, both of SMU, returned to northwestern Ethiopia in late December 2007 to collect additional plant fossils and gain a more thorough understanding of their geological context. The team also included Dan Danehy, an SMU Master’s Degree student in the Department of Earth Sciences; Harvey Herr, an undergraduate in the Department of Earth Sciences; John Kappelman with the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas; Ellen Currano, a Ph.D. student from Penn State University; and Alemu Yenehun, a graduate of Mekelle University, Ethiopia.

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Dan Danehy: Hiking, digging and searching for fossils

We have been in Ethiopia for about a week now, hiking throughout the country side, examining exposed strata, digging and searching for fossils, and collecting what leaf specimens we find.

The Ethiopian country side is very unique and nothing like I have ever experienced. People still farm by hand, using Oxen instead of tractors, donkeys instead of pick up trucks, and bare hands and raw knuckles to collect their crops. Cattle and goats are herded by very small children (on the order of age from 5-13 years or so), which makes me think that these children are much much more responsible than I was at their age.

The local people are absolutely amazing, wherever we go we are greeted with a smile and a wave, invitations to drink tela and generous acts of warm hospitality. When we are measuring section or quarrying fossil leaves, a troop of inquisitive children forms all around us, eager to see what it is we are doing, willing to help, and trying to teach us local dialect words. I find that whenever I say anything (that is attempt to say anything in Amharic) everyone bursts with bright smiles and laughter, leaving me to assume that both my annunciation and pronunciation are horrid. We were recently given slings as gifts from the workers who help us everyday, and Ellen and I have been trying to sling rocks; most of which deviate from the direction we are aiming and we are again, greeted by laughter from the local children at our slinging skills.

One thing that is extremely different is the sun. The rays are so direct (because we are at such a high elevation and our low latitude position to the equator) it feels as if the sun is targeting me below a magnifying glass (much like adolescents used to do to ants where I grew up), as we hike around, I feel like a wax figure slowly melting in the sun from all the sweat that beads off of me into my dusty and dirty field clothes. The sun takes a lot out of me, it seems that most of my energy is expelled at trying to cool me off. I try to keep myself completely covered at all times (I find that shading myself in white long-sleeves and khakis are the best) but I still complain and moan about the sun every chance I get. I am simply not built to live in this environment, my Irish roots evolved to be in the cloudy shade, protected from the hot sun rays. The local individuals who help us, on the other hand, have no problem what-so-ever with the sun. They hike long distances carrying a lot on their shoulders without ever complaining, stopping, loafing, or even drinking water (I meanwhile must consume nearly 2.5 liters of water within 6 hours). It has really got me thinking about the evolution of man, which has roots in this region (LUCY was discovered in the Afar depression to the north of here) and leaves me with no question in my mind that dark skin allows individuals to live and function in this hot environment, and at this point I am rather jealous at their adaptability to this terrain as I labor through it, completely covered gasping for air and hoping for a strong, cool breeze.

Well, I have been in the shade quite a bit now and have cooled off (and the sun is beginning to set), which leaves me some time before our delicious dinner to practice slinging some rocks at the expense of laughter and smiles.

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