Dmanisi Field School: Success

I just got back to the States from the Republic of Georgia two nights ago; I’d thought I wasn’t really feeling the effects of the 8-hour time difference, but here I am at 6:00 a.m. feeling as fresh and sprightly as an antelope. Well, almost as much as an antelope. I didn’t have the chance to update the blog while I was in Georgia, so I’ll jot down some thoughts about my experience overall.

I had the good fortune to be able to assist a colleague in executing the first (annual) Dmanisi Paleoanthropology Field School. We had a brief field season (1 month) excavating the site of Dmanisi where the skulls and partial skeletons of several Homo erectus individuals have been found. In my previous post, I’d mentioned the site dated to around 1.77 million years ago. After being well-educated on the geology of the site by Reid Ferring, I can now say that the hominids are found between two basalts (lava flows) dating to 1.85 and 1.76 million years ago. Within these two basalt layers are A and B ashfall sediments. The A sediments are older, of normal magnetic polarity, indicating an age of 1.85-1.78 million years ago. The B sediments are reverse polarity, and were deposited between 1.78 – 1.76 million years ago. Stone tools are found through out the sequence, though Homo erectus is only known from B sediments. Enough about the geology.

Georgia itself is an amazing country. I really only spent time in the capital city of Tbilisi and the small town of Dmanisi [namely Patara (“little”) Dmanisi], and I’m sure that if I had the opportunity to see more I’d think the place is even more amazing. There is a very rich and ancient cultural heritage, and the country seems to be doing well for itself since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There’s an enduring Soviet influence, which for a simpleton like me means that there are amazing statues sprinkled about the place. Here’s a picture of the giant statue of Kartlis Deda (“Mother Georgia”), which overlooks the center of downtown Tbilisi. For a 20-meter tall woman, she was fairly difficult for me to find. Women…

The people I met and got to work with were great. The Georgians were super friendly and awesome. Here’s a picture of a lot of them (and me!) during the Paleolithic Games. This year it was only one game, using an atl-atl to hurl a spear at various targets. The top 3 winners were all named Giorgi; I only scored 2 points. Better luck next year. Anyway, I really like my newfound Georgian friends. In addition, I’m really glad to have met the other researchers and field school students. Everyone was super friendly and helpful and knowledgeable, and I think David Lordkipanidze, now head of the Georgian National Museums, has done a great job of integrating local Georgian and international researchers in the Dmanisi excavations. All in all, we really had a great crew.

It was a fossiliferous year, as it has been in the past, and will probably be in the future. Though we excavated for only a month, we uncovered a number of great fossils, including a complete hominid humerus that made the news (if I can find a non-facebook link again I’ll post the news coverage). Here’s a picture of the press interviewing Abesolam Vekua (left) and David Lordkipanidze at the site the last day I was there. Right where they are standing is where a number of hominid remains have come from. The humerus is from right behind where Vekua stands. He’s facing squares where we spent lots of time excavating, and that yielded some pretty interesting stuff; note the jumble of fossils to his left. I don’t know what I am and ain’t allowed to say, but suffice it to say that a number of cool things came out, many of which I’m sure you’ll be hearing about in the near future.
All in all, it was a great way to end this summer. I hope I have the opportunity to go back!
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