National Geographic : 1961 Oct
Mary called me on the radiotelephone from the gorge and said, "We have to have the Bedacryl now." "I'm sorry," I reported, "but there just isn't any in Nairobi. The agents say they'll have to scout around South Africa for some." "Tell them to fly it to you," said Mary firm ly. "Mirabilis can't wait very long." Fortunately the agents did locate a supply in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and our dino therium was saved. Olduvai's fossils are as varied as they are rich, and if we have giants, we also have dwarfs. This past season we collected the bones of thousands of minute extinct crea tures, especially their jawbones and teeth. Some of these animals-they include mice, rats, birds, shrews, and lizards-were so tiny that six of the jawbones would fit on my thumbnail (page 585). Fossils Record Prehistoric Climate Getting these delicate miniatures out of the rock is a fantastically ticklish business, but it is worth the trouble, for the tiny fossil ized creatures tell us volumes about the cli mate of the past. Rats, mice, lizards, and other small creatures that live in the desert or in semidesert country are of course entirely different from those in forests, swamps, and meadows. Fortunately, the fossil jaws, teeth, and bones of even the tiniest animals can be identified as to species. Therefore, when we find the remains of the sorts of creatures that today occupy desert, we can be sure the cli mate of their period was arid. The reverse, of course, is also true. It is just this type of detective work, the sorting and interpreting of tiny clues, that makes our job so fascinating. I have often heard archeology referred to as a dry and boring science. Mary and I can tell you that it is nothing of the kind. The cleverest mys tery story ever written cannot match our job for sheer excitement and suspense. Near the top of Bed I we have recently been finding the jawbones of desert or semi desert types of rodents, indicating that the wet climate which we know existed during most of Bed I times had begun to give way to drier conditions. This of course had a vital effect on Olduvai's human life. The other day we found interesting con firmation of that climatic shift when we dis covered a whole layer of mineral structures commonly known as "roses of the desert." These crystalline structures, a form of cal 586 Stone Age Tool Serves the Author as a Butcher Knife To prove to his African staff that the stone im plements they unearth really were used by pre historic man. Dr. Lea key staged this dem onstration at Olduvai with a ram's carcass and a stone chopper of his own making. A few blows from one rock against another produced the chopper shown at the bottom of the page opposite. With it. the author skinned and disjointed the ram almost as swiftly as with a saw, knife, and cleaver. His time was less than 20 minutes. "I first began making stone tools some 35 years ago." Dr. Leakey says. "in the belief that I would never fully un derstand the prehistoric tool-makers until I could handle their im plements as effectively as they did." cite, are found at varying depths below the surface of the Sahara and other deserts, suggesting that the same type of desert ex isted for a time at Olduvai. Even today at the gorge, we have the little desert-loving jerboas-similar to kangaroo rats in the United States - scuttling about our camp. Indeed, I sometimes think the jerboas are the only creatures fit to live in Olduvai, for as I say, the gorge is a true dust bowl almost the year round.