For someone who has never participated in an on-site research trip for archaeology/anthropology in a foreign place, the Mpala Research Centre and Wildlife Foundation facilities were not what I was expecting. Not only are the accommodations comparable, if not fancier, than the apartment where I was living last semester, but the common dining area and timed meal times create a real community feel for all those participating in research through the center. Despite encounters with certain interesting and some unwanted creatures, adjusting to living here has gone smoother than I once anticipated.
Besides the main dining area which reminds me of a “mess hall” at camp, there is also a research laboratory and library that are available for use by all researchers and visitors. The compound is spread over a large area, but it is simple to navigate during the day and there are guard escorts to aid wanderers once darkness inhibits all sense of direction. I managed to collect some photos from some of the housing buildings, as well as the surrounding areas. These are a few examples of the living arrangements, both shared and individual, as well as some shots of the local animal life.
On Mpala’s website (http://www.mpala.org/index.php), it is described as a “living laboratory” and after being here now for a few days, I can only agree. Everywhere you turn there is the opportunity to observe animal and plant species and to converse with many students studying subjects in ecology, anthropology, etc. The Mpala Research Centre property is beautifully maintained, but the best part about the location is that you are surrounded by the natural African savanna habitat. It is the only place in my life thus far that I have been able to wake up and see the sun rise over untouched land. Look to my left, and if it’s early enough in the morning, I can see the peaks of Mount Kenya (later on they are usually obscured by clouds).
As a team, we’re not just here to observe the beautiful African views. We have travelled to a few sites and it’s amazing that by only driving for a half hour through the precarious landscape, we come across burials and past sites of human occupancy (as Paul mentioned, we’re still not sure of the dating for any of the remains, but the plan is to find out!). Today we headed back out to the first burial site in the hopes of starting the excavation process and were successful in discovering human remains (more than when the first time the site was examined). We will delegate another blog entry to describe those processes and discoveries after more analysis has taken place. It’s only a bonus that we get to see wildlife such as giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, elephants, dik-diks, etc. as we trek through the wilderness for the sake of archeological research!