Embedded reporting from the Middle Awash

Rex Dalton of Nature has a very interesting article recounting his experiences with the Middle Awash project. For those unfamiliar with the research, there is a quick review of the participants:

Much of [the team's] success can be traced to the project's multinational roots. It represents the best of scientific capacity-building: African scientists receive doctorates at top universities overseas, and then return to work and nurture projects at home. Scientists from abroad, such as [Tim] White -- at the University of California, Berkeley -- are in the minority. The team's other leaders are Ethiopians: there is Giday WoldeGabriel, a geologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico; the palaeoanthropologist Berhane Asfaw, director of Ethiopia's National Museum in Addis Ababa; and Yonas Beyene, a government archaeologist. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, a key team member who received his doctorate at Berkeley, like Asfaw, is curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, a bastion of hominid research.

It's a very nice picture of paleoanthropological fieldwork, with much detail about the Bouri localities, and it is well worth reading. Here's another snippet:

Back at the trucks, an Afar girl waits for us with a brick-shaped elephant tooth. White jokingly suggests our police guards arrest her, and she is asked to return the fossil to its location. He worries that keeping such items encourages locals to remove fossils from their surroundings, destroying vital geological information.
A week later, the team returns to ensure the fossil was replaced. And there, near the elephant tooth site, they find fresh fuel for their fever -- a hominid tooth shard.

Bushels of earth around it will be sieved for any remaining pieces. Tuff dating will follow, then site maintenance. A published article may be years off, but once again Afar shows where it all began.</blockquote>

Sounds like they should hire the girl. I hope they at least make her a coauthor!


Dalton R. 2006. Ethiopia: Awash with fossils. Nature 439:14-16. Full text (subscription)