Door Ranjith & Beth - 20 juni 2006 -The Mare aux Songes excavation has resulted in an enormous amount of finds. The many bones need to be washed, photographed and catalogued. Therefore a part of the team is staying at the base processing the finds while the others are busy to get themselves dirty in the field. Today Julian went through the collection of bones uncovered by Kenneth, Frans and Pieter in the Mare aux Songes last October. Apart from dodos and tortoises the faunal assemblage proved to contain several other (extinct) species. By analysing animal bones we get to know the different species that lived at the Mare aux Songes, as well as the age and health of these animals. Among last years finds were two fused vertebra of a dodo. Although it is not possible to say whether the bird got this as a result of a disease or old age, we can be sure that it must have suffered.
Yesterday morning Kenneth and Frans flew back home and two new members of the team arrived: Beth Shapiro and James Haile, both from the University of Oxford. They will be responsible for DNA sampling. This will be discussed in detail later. First an impression by Beth of hir first day at the site.
I've just completed my first full day as part of the dodo expedition (making this my first entry in the weblog), and despite my jetlag I am very enthusiastic about the next ten days that I will spend with the expedition team. The digger has been in place for about a week now, and today the team finished sorting through its fifth giant bucket of dirt, seeds and bones scooped from the bottom of the swamp. The results are exciting, and point toward a busy few weeks of sorting, identification and discussion. Most exciting, however, has been meeting (some of them for the first time) the other members of the team here, many of which have not been properly introduced to the weblog reader (or at least to those, who, like me, lack a basic understanding of the Dutch language).
I unfortunately missed my opportunity to overlap with Kenneth, whose path I crossed in the airport as I arrived with my colleague, James, from the UK early Monday morning. We were met at the airport by Ranjith (whose efforts to keep up this weblog should not go unrewarded), Pieterand the film crew, Remmelt and Gilles, who are an ever-preset reminder that I have to be nice and remember to comb my hair. After 12 hours on a plane, James and I werent really prepared for a recorded greeting, but we did our best not to make fools of ourselves, and finally made our way to the sugar plantation that will be home until the end of next week. The group is divided into two houses, the hotel, which is a converted set of offices (and where both James and I have rooms) and, a five minute walk away, the frat house, where many others are staying and where coffee (very important) and food is served.
After a brief rest and an invigorating walk around the sugar estate, James and I were taken to the dig site and were immediately impressed. Most impressive was the amazing contraption constructed by Rene for sorting and sieving the muck once it is raised from swamp floor (although it should be noted that Renes talents do not end with building contraptions; one of his most noted contributions to the team thus far has been to point out that if you leave your bedroom light on, the Chikingunya-carrying mossies will be less likely to snack on your blood than to bounce helplessly off of the bulb). We were treated to introductions to the site by Ranjith, Pieter and Julian, and had a brilliant afternoon (I didn't even fall into the muck once. Okay, once. But not twice).
The next scoop
Today was spend finishing the sorting from the last bucket, and preparing for the next scoop, which will hopefully be taken tomorrow. Sem and Lars spent the day trying to catch up on cataloguing samples, which is getting to be more and more important as the expedition progresses. And somebody else (not me) fell into the muck! (I have been forbidden from saying who it was guesses anyone?) But for now the expedition team takes break, waiting expectantly for the first of two nights of late-night football madness, led tonight by the ever-enthusiastic artist, palaeontologist, and amateur football hooligan, Julian (who claims that those in bed in Europe will be able to hear him shouting should England do anything silly). Speaking of the game, I'd better get myself a beer before all the cold ones disappear from the fridge.
Photo by Ranjith: The ever-present film crew Remmelt and Gilles with Julian and Beth, who are working on a new scoop.