University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Dumpster Diving in Laikipia

By: Amy Ellsworth

May 3, 2010

Last night the elephants herd took over the camp. They hung around until 6am.

When I asked Jenn how she slept, she said bluntly, “I had elephants.” They surrounded her banda and started rubbing up against it. They were kicking stones around and actually broke a water pipe to drink the water. Jenn said she was terrified. The curtain on her window was open and an elephant stuck it’s head right inside the window and stared at her. She scurried up to the loft and tried to sleep to no avail. In the morning, there was a giant ball of dung on her doorstep.

Kathleen said they could smell us when we were upwind of them earlier in the day and they certainly recognized her. They probably didn’t mean any harm. But it’s still scary to be around animals that could squoosh you into oblivion with a movement that amounts to a flick of a human pinky.

Kathleen also had a brush with the wildlife in her banda last night. The little squirrel living in it ate her pills. She wasn’t sure which ones, but she knows it got at her melatonin. “So,” she said, “We’re either going to see a really sleepy squirrel or a really sick squirrel walking around the camp.”

Giraffes in the middle of the road

Today went to Mwongoni, an abandoned boma, or agricultural settlement that is usually circular and gated with thorny brush to keep the wild animals out and the domesticated animals in. Bill mentioned that they might eventually excavate a trash circle just outside the boma. Which is basically what a lot of archaeology is about, dumpster diving.

Peter started collecting some edible greens for dinner around the site. He said they may have originally been planted here by the original people who settled here. These herbs weren’t found back at the Mpala Ranch.

We walked around the boma, the perimeter was marked by a shallow depression and a shorter, and lighter shade of grass. The enclosed area which was about 50 meters in diameter had several bald spots in the grass where the huts would have been.

We grazed the landscape like bipedal cows looking down at our feet for artifacts: pottery, bone, flakes, beads or stone tools. Suddenly there was a rucus from where Mulu was standing. He’d found a perfect hand axe. Not the typical tear drop shape which were usually made of softer rock, but an oddly shaped ball with a ridge that must have been the business end of the axe. He said it was probably middle stone age, around 2 million years old.

Kathleen reminded me that this is not the time period we’re interested in but it’s still interesting nonetheless.

Mulu then found a white glass bead that could have been modern or date back to 2000 years. The only viable means of dating it was the fact that people started using plastic beads in the 1950s.

We came back to the Research Center and everyone went to their respective bomas except for me and Jenn. I was planning on taking advantage of the solar heated shower, but I’ very glad I didn’t leave the outdoor dining area. The herd of elephants that terrorized Jenn the previous night emerged slowly from the bushes about 20 meters away. There was the little grey-ish baby that we saw ford the river yesterday, and there was the angry matriarch close enough to smell. They just lumbered along the grassy clearing ripping up grass and chewing, not giving us a single blink of attention.

The other returned for dinner except for Bill whose boma was right smack on the other side of the elephants. An ascari had to go and pick him up otherwise no dinner for Bill.

I was anxious throughout dinner despite the exceptional butter beans and string beans, wondering how I was going to get back to the boma. Forget checking email at the library. At one point Jenn asked Bill where the elephants were at the moment and he said, “The elephants are still at the library.” I don’t think will ever have the opportunity to use that sentence ever again in my life.

Two other scientists, studying water management were chatting when a young an came in in fatigues. I asked him if he was military, in my infinite wisdom. He said yes and flashed a skittish sort of grin to the water managers whom he’d already met. I felt silly asking him. I thought he might be a naturalist of some sort in ned of camouflage. He was in the British military and was stationed in Mpala to maintain the roads. He said he was very happy with this appointment because it’s just biding time before he will inevitably get shipped off to Afghanistan.

After hearing that, I felt a little silly being so scared of the elephants, knowing there are greater human risks out there to contend with.

  • katya

    The sentence “The elephants are still at the library” could possibly show up on Sesame Street.

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