“Just being where we’re finding bones, pottery, beads and other artifacts – right as it’s happening – is the coolest thing ever,” says Lydia Myers ’20, an undergraduate researcher who spent the summer on a dig near Lake Turkana, Kenya.
Lydia participated in the Turkana Basin Institute Field School last spring. And this summer, she had the opportunity to return to Kenya to conduct field research on Spatial distribution of artifacts within the early pastoral habitation site of Nakwaperit, West Turkana under the supervision of Elisabeth Hildebrand, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Her summer research experience was funded by the Angela & Dexter Bailey-URECA award, a decisive factor in enabling her to pursue this opportunity.
“Having that grant – that was what made the summer possible for me,” Lydia said. “I never would have been able to go otherwise.”
Lydia had previously taken coursework with Prof. Hildebrand at both Stony Brook and the TBI field school, where she learned the basics of excavation. The summer project also required in-depth training to operate a Total Station, an instrument used by archaeologists to record spatial data on artifacts and layers at a site. Lydia had previous research experience in Anthropology at SB, having been involved since the beginning of sophomore year in the functional morphology laboratory of Dr. Gabrielle Russo.
Lydia is a member of the University Scholars program. A graduate of Watkins Glen High School in Schuyler County New York, Lydia became fluent in Portuguese during her gap year in São Paulo, Brazil as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Her hobbies include dance, piano and cooking. Below are excerpts of her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Tell me about the site where you were doing your field research. What sorts of kinds of questions were you trying to answer through this project?
The site is called Nakwaperit, which is on the west side of Lake Turkana. It’s a very interesting site because, unlike the monumental ‘pillar site’ cemeteries that are better-known in this area, we haven’t really found any habitation sites on the west side of the lake before. So from the outset, we thought it would be interesting to look at Nakwaperit to learn through spatial data how early pastoralists were living at the site (~4000 years ago) and to learn about the day-to-day lifestyle during this time period. It’s an intriguing site for understanding social aspects of these early pastoralists and the economic changes brought about as herding spread from the Sahara into Turkana.
How much work has already been done at this particular site?
The field school has been working at Nakwaperit since 2016. On one side of the ridge, a lot of artifacts (including pottery, both decorated and undecorated) had been found. This year, we targeted another part of the ridge a few hundred meters away where human remains were previously spotted on the surface and were in danger of being washed into the Turkwel river below. We invited a specialist in human remains recovery, bioarchaeologist and SB postdoc Elizabeth Sawchuk, to join our excavation in case any burials were encountered. As we were walking over to the other side of the ridge, we saw a cranium eroding out of the surface. And there was a large amount of bone on the surface eroding down the slope. It turned out there was actually a complete skeleton in situ –undisturbed underneath the sediment. But that moment was when we realized that the bone needed to be collected and the burial excavated before it eroded away. So that’s where we did most of our digging this year.
What were some of the finds/discoveries from this summer?
In the first individual that we excavated (the one that was completely in situ), you could see that the finger bones were very osteoarthritic and fused together. We think that the individual was really old which is interesting because — based on the condition of the teeth, and the hands and feet — it suggests that in the community, somebody would have had to take care of this person. They probably had to feed them, help them. That shows a lot about the social bonds of the community that we wouldn’t have known otherwise.