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Paleontology In the Turkana Valley

  1. Apr 20, 2008 #1


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    I was just reading an article in this month's SciAm about the difficulties involved in field paleontology in the Turkana Valley, near Kenya. The problem, as I understand it, is that frequent rains uncover new fossil beds, and frequent foot traffic (by livestock herders migrating to fresh grazing grounds) quickly disturb these beds. The "revolutionary solution" that paleontologists have proposed is to set up a permanent camp in the valley, turning the entire area into a year-round dig site. Although this is, indeed, a revolutionary solution, I'm not convinced it is the best solution.

    It seems to me that various universities and paleontological societies could begin offering cash rewards to the tribesmen for various sorts of discoveries. If these incentives were kept cheaper than the current cost of field expeditions, the universities (who are always strapped for funding for research) could save substantial amounts, and the locals (many of whom are subsistence farmers, barely making a living) could receive a new source of much-needed income. In this way, the field effort would receive a sudden influx of thousands of highly motivated workers, and fossil beds would become a commodity that the locals work hard to preserve.

    Has anyone heard of this solution being attempted in the Turkana Valley area? Does this sound like a workable system? What would you foresee to be the obstacles to the success of such a program?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2008 #2
    problem with that solution is that you cannot do "in-situ" research. Just a bunch of fossil bone of something has much less value than the same bunch of bone in situ, it provides clues for the dating, the environment, possible relationships between fauna's. It's the whole package.

    Of course there are many renowned finding places, like the LaBrea tar pits, the Friesenhahn cave, South Dakota hot springs, which have been dedicated for paleontology only.

    There may be other ways to have the locals benefit although don't expect the paleontologic budgets to be very generous.
  4. Apr 21, 2008 #3


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    Yes, and that is indeed a problem. In fact, it is exactly this problem that I had in mind when I mentioned "cash rewards for various sorts of discoveries." They could offer money to anyone who can lead them to a previously undiscovered fossil bed; significantly more money if the bed is undisturbed.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2008
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