Digging Kenya

Digging KenyaJennifer Chiappardi, Photographer, and Amy Ellsworth, Digital Media Developer at the Penn Museum will be documenting the 2010 season of the Laikipia Archaeological Project in Kenya. Led by Dr. Kathleen Ryan, the research team will be excavating settlements from 2000 – 3000 BCE on the Laikipia Plateau in north central Kenya, overlooking the Rift Valley.

Amy Ellsworth will be blogging about the project at www.penn.museum/blog/kenya

The team will also travel south to Maasailand where Dr. Ryan is also engaged in ethnobotanical research. The team will document translator, Paul Kunoni describing the medicinal uses of various plants for both humans and animals. The team will also visit the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, where they will "adopt" an elephant for the Penn Museum.

The Laikipia Archaeological Project focuses on the more recent period of transition from the Later Stone Age (LSA) to the Pastoral Neolithic (PN) 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, when the first cattle herding groups entered Laikipia and interacted with the indigenous hunter-gatherers. Until recent decades, surprisingly little research had been conducted on the origins and spread of cattle herding in Africa. Although cattle domestication is believed to have occurred in Africa roughly 9,000 years ago, cattle pastoralism in East Africa began several millennia later, between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago, when the first cattle herding groups moved south into what is now Kenya. This period of transition–when indigenous hunter-gatherers and cattle herders first interacted in Laikipia–is the main focus of the investigations.


Archaeology Along the Mekong

Dr. Joyce White Digging at Tham An MahAs director of Penn Museum's Middle Mekong Archaeological Project in Laos, Dr. Joyce C. White, Associate Curator and archaeologist, is currently leading an excavation at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Luang Prabang. The project’s mission is to investigate the prehistory of the region, which has until now been untouched by modern archaeology.

The team’s progress is being documented by a daily blog written and posted by Amy Ellsworth, Penn Museum’s digital media developer. Her posts, which began on Jan. 1, will continue through Jan. 17. The blog has so far chronicled the discovery of what appears to be a burial pot from the Iron Age, around 2000 BCE, as well as two bones thought to be human and a piece of skull.

The archaeological team is focusing on a cave called Tham An Mah, once used as a Buddhist temple.  When White leaves later this month, the project will be handed over to the Laos people to maintain and continue research. Read the daily blog at http://middlemekong.wordpress.com.


Kenya, a Photographer’s Playground

by Jennifer Chiappardi, Penn Museum Photographer

jen_smallJennifer traveled to Kenya in March 2009 while Penn Museum African Section Associate Curator Kathleen Ryan and Penn undergraduates continued research on the Penn Museum research project: The Arrival and Expansion of Pastoralist Economies on the Laikipia Plateau

Interacting with modern Maasai groups and learning about their lifestyle was an unforgettable experience. We traveled through southern Maasailand, visiting families in occupied settlements and also seeing the remains of abandoned homesteads in which the Maasai used to live.

I was honored to be granted permission to photograph the elders, their families, and the insides of their homes. I was given a rare opportunity to interact with the elders’ wives and curious children. All seemed to enjoy seeing their photos on the back of my digital camera. These photos were later sent to the families in Africa.

Going back in time and envisioning the lifestyles of prehistoric pastoralists thousands of years ago in Laikipia, I was able to recognize the similarities to present day Maasai settlements. There is so much to learn about archaeology, surveying, preparing and digging a site, and examining surface materials. I also learned about the environment in which the early pastoralist used to live and present day Massai now live. I saw firsthand the cohabitation of wildlife and humans in which both have to find ways to survive in a constantly changing and harsh environment. Since my return to the US I am actively participating in raising awareness of the dangers that are posed to both humans and wildlife in this region.

These images, brought to you by Jennifer Chiappardi, offer a glimpse into Kenya today from a photographer's perspective.


Geology and Landscape

Mount LykaionI’d like to introduce another exceptional team working at Mt. Lykaion: the geologists.  It’s a team of just two—Dr. George Davis of the University of Arizona and his able assistant, Karl Yares—but they’ve managed to accomplish a tremendous amount over the course of the season. From field mapping the region to digitally processing all their data to digging their own trench, the geologists did a little of nearly everything.

As George helped us appreciate, the geology of Mt. Lykaion and its environs is incredible.  Active faults zigzag across the land, and their traces are visible everywhere, at least with someone like George to help us notice them.  In some places, compressional forces have caused a plane to fold back on itself in a hairpin bend, so strata can be seen in the reverse of their usual sequence; in others, faulting occurs twice, so that the sequence of strata repeats...

Read the rest of this article, and more, on the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey blog (wordpress).


Cultural Heritage in Laos

See more pictures on Flickr.A six week archaeological training and collaborative research program run by Penn Museum’s Dr. Joyce White concluded in mid-March in Luang Prabang, Laos. Training for this phase of the Middle Mekong Archaeological Project (MMAP) Spring 2009 was provided by the Lao Department of Heritage, scholars from three British universities, two Thai archaeologists, UNESCO-Bangkok, the Lao Department of Geology, as well as IT, database, and public communications specialists from the Penn Museum. Thirteen Lao culture heritage managers from government branches in three provinces participated in program. The training was funded by the Henry Luce Foundation as part of its support of Penn Museum’s four-year program for “Strengthening the Future of Southeast Asian Archaeology: Investigating the Prehistoric Settlement of the Middle Mekong Basin.”


Photo: Dr. Joyce White works with trainees on a mock-up of the bilingual MMAP 2009 exhibit presented to Lao government officials and citizens at the end of training in Luang Prabang.


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