Wednesday 26 May 2010

From our Correspondent in Morocco

Lady Traveller's Little Sister is currently spending her nights in a tent on the roof of a house in Rabat,

and spending her days digging for Neanderthals.

She had kindly furnished us with an account of her adventures.

LTLS is back. As an itinerant archaeologist, I often get to go to cool places (last year in Lesotho, ‘cool’ was the operative word). This year I’m in Morocco for four weeks, digging a Middle Palaeolithic cave site (called Grotte des Contrabandiers, or Smugglers’ Cove near Rabat.

The site is particularly cool, because although the technology is similar to that used by Neanderthals, it seems to be associated with modern humans (i.e. Homo sapiens, i.e. us), but with some interesting differences: we have perforated marine shells (used as ornaments) and pigment (like ochre and haematite) at our site. Archaeologists call this ‘symbolic behaviour’, the onset of which (probably about 200,000 years ago) makes every thing we manufacture and produce today (like hairbrushes, hammers, and email) possible. It’s all pretty cool, really.

Anyway, our site is in a beautiful location, but unfortunately I can’t show you any pictures of it because my pictures and I are now the property of National Geographic. Last year, some pieces of modern human bone (some finger bones) were found, and have been called ‘Bouchra’. Most early skeletons found by archaeologists get nicknames (as well as a lab code), and ours is called Bouchra for two reasons: a) it means ‘good news’ in Arabic, and b) Bouchra is the name of one of the crew members, and it was her birthday the day the bones were found. Anyway, last week, we found another foot bone, which is probably another part of Bouchra, and because of all this, a crew from National Geographic are coming out to film a documentary about the site.

The National Geographic Society have also part-funded the dig, which means that no pictures of the site can be published (even those taken by the excavators) without their consent. Which I don’t have. But this one’s in the public domain. Also, here’s a picture of the tool I found last week, called an ‘Aterian Point’, or a ‘pedonculate’. Basically, it’s an arrow- or spear-head, but about 70,000 years old! Isn’t it pretty?

They took a picture of me and it with the site camera last week, which apparently means I’m the property of National Geographic too. Goodie.

The site crew consist of eight Americans, two Australians, a New Zealander, two French, a Romanian, a Canadian, a Portuguese, a Moroccan, a Dane, and me. We work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., digging, analysing finds, wet-screening artefacts, labelling artefacts, and, of course, drinking the mint tea and donuts that the Moroccan workers (all of whom are called Mohammed) bring us. It’s a hard life.

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