Insights from a Field School Student

KFFS Student Blogs about Her Experience


I’ve been dreaming of Africa.

I’ve dreamt of Africa from both my archaeological and literary side, from the incredible sites to the writers who have journeyed into the heart of the world. We’re all here at the Koobi Fora Field School for different reasons, but mine is for exploration. I believe that life is made up of a series of events, a series of journeys, a series of exploration. Africa, for someone from the United States, is that place of adventure, and I think as a citizen of the United States, I’m always looking for the great adventure, which is here, in Africa. I stepped off the plane after having flown over 25 hours from the United States to Nairobi, and was ready to explore the world, connect with the world with a new understanding. I’ve always been interested in seeing into myself, seeing into humanity, seeing into the world really, and having studied archaeology I’ve found that archaeology is the only thing that gives me the physical connection to the past. Nothing ever could ever answer my questions about us, humans, until I became interested in paleoanthropology. I was beyond words when I found I would be going to the center, the cradle of humanity in Turkana, Africa, Koobi Fora, a place I only knew from all my lectures in human evolution.

The stories from Koobi Fora held true when the car broke down for the first time along the highway in Nairobi. Despite the car troubles, it was a perfect way to experience life in Africa, watching  as the traffic passed, cars and trucks filled with people getting home from their jobs, piling in as high and as tight as they could, crossing the highways, buying bananas from the street sellers, life in Africa moves quickly and slowly all at once.

After a few hours, we made it to the hotel, an oasis for jetlag and the chaos in Nairobi. After meets and greets with fellow adventurers and a day at the museum and around Nairobi, we loaded the trucks and ourselves for our first great journey to Mugie Game Ranch, where I am writing now, today. I was lucky, I chose to ride on the Unimog, and for those of you unfamiliar with a Unimog, it’s comparable to a large army style truck, where the ramp drops and everyone goes piling out in a time of war. But for Kenya, the Unimog is perfect, despite the exhaust, I couldn’t imagine a better way of seeing Africa. The truck is open, leaving you both exposed and connected to the outdoors, which is perfect for seeing everything surrounding. As we made the drive from Southern Kenya towards Mugie Ranch, part of the Laikipia Plateau, we passed local markets, crowded on a Sunday afternoon buying potatoes, fruit, onions, goods, all of which were buzzing with life, which would then pause as we’d pass. They’d take a moment to watch us pass, the children running along waving, their smiles wide as we waved back, driving through landscapes of local towns and lush vegetation. The drive felt unreal, was unreal, moving and pausing in our great adventure, in the moments that flew by on the drive up.

After a bit of mishaps with cars getting stuck in mud and attacking acacia trees, we made it safely to camp.

I woke up in the morning to the African sunrise of oranges and yellows,

as the sunrises that rise up in the feathers of the local birds, everything is interconnected here.  We began our day quickly, as time moves quickly in Africa, and I headed out for my first activity, digging up bulbines. After crafting our own digging sticks, I pulled out the smallest, which shows that life back in the hominid days was not easy, and my poor hominid family would be very hungry. But it was a strange moment, a strange reenacting of life that has passed, but somehow right beneath our feet, a life within the soil, within the world was real. The next day we took our first game drive and I can’t explain what it was like looking at all the animals you only see in images, of the elephants (Loxodonta africana..I’ve learned!). The birds flying from their nests, flying from the water, sitting on the zebra’s back, it was a moment that I will never forget. My next activity consisted of visiting a site of the carcass of an elephant and mapping what we’ve found as well as doing transects, where we found the tiniest little maxilla from someone from the Rodentia family. After a few hours of hiking through the tall grasses, taking in the landscape around us, we headed back to camp, ducked into our tents to avoid the rain, and to keep up with articles, and quickly, time began again. My last activity here at Mugie was a mapping activity with GPS, where we mapped a perimeter and then everything we found in between. The first sunny afternoon was perfect for our second game drive where we drove through rivers that were once roads and deep grasses, to get the perfect view of the wildlife and their habitats. Everything we’re doing here at Mugie is to prepare us for seeing life through fossils, observing how life may have been (and based on bulbine digging, my hominid life would have been very difficult!).

Now we all sit near the fire drying our shoes and socks, keeping warm with stories of adventure, trucks getting stuck in the mud, getting drenched in the afternoon rains, and our adventures in our individual activities. We all are looking forward to start our newest journey to Koobi Fora. I hear the drive will be an adventure itself with gorgeous views of the landscape. Only a few people get to experience such opportunities in life, and I am incredibly lucky to be here, in the heart of the world, Africa.

Alex Edmondsen, KFFS 2013