Elephant Fossil Co-op?

At Lake Nojiri in Shinano, Nagano Prefecture in Japan there was found over 50 years ago, the fossils of Naumann elephants. They have employed what is now called the “Lake Nojiri Method” to excavate the 83,000 fossils and other items they have found since: anyone can participate.

Families with five-year-old children, troops of secondary school students, the elderly aged up to 78 have all contributed to the findings.

Perhaps someone with more expertise in archaeological digging could explain to me how “precious fossils” of 40,000 to 60,000 year old creatures can be allowed to be dug up by the inexpert hands of a 5 year old? I thought there was more delicacy and precision involved in digging up relics – you know, in case they get damaged.

Someone care to clear this up?

[Read about the dig at SBS World News]

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6 Responses to Elephant Fossil Co-op?

  1. I study archaeology and it is a common practice to use unskilled manpower to excavate stuff. If the work is overssen properly this works quiet fine.
    It's also a way to get funding to involve the public. Otherwise they might be unable to dig at all.
    Many workers at dig sites are unskilled handymen.

  2. As an undergrad at Florida State University I helped at a dig site for extra credit in my Intro to Archaeology course. The site was full of unskilled laborers like me being supervised by those with much more training. The dig would not have been possible if not for the cheap unskilled labor, there is just too much earth to sift through. The vast majority of the artifacts at the site I was at were easily handled by untrained hands and a five year old could have managed well. For the more delicate stuff the archaeologists would take over and handle it, but that was rare.

    There are just too many fossils and artifacts to be unearthed and too little funding to rely on skilled labor in these large excavations.

  3. I've worked on a few digs, both as unskilled labor and as a supervisor. Normally, this is what happens:

    1. Unskilled labor is told how to dig (what tools, removing dirt at what rate, etc.)
    2. They're told what types of artifacts can just be tossed into a bag.
    3. Other types of finds should be left in the ground, so those who are supervising can photograph it in situ.

  4. As a former paleontologist, I can tell you that volunteer labor can move a lot of dirt.

    Sometimes you find something delicate – then you use people who know what they are doing. But if this is a massive bone bed where everything is jumbled, a small nick here and there won't hurt. You can also use some field adhesive to keep flakes from flaking. 5 year olds can be put in parts where the bones are so eroded that it won't matter what they do.

    The really delicate work, though, is usually done out of the field. At this point, you're getting enough matrix removed so you can jacket the fossils and yank them out of there.

    Besides – it's not like you give a pickaxe or a jackhammer to just anyone. There's only so much damage a trowel can do in unskilled hands.

  5. also, archaeology =/= paleontology. Archaeology deals with human remains and artifacts (things made by humans/human activity) and paleontology deals with fossilized materials of plants and animals not associated with human activity. There is a blurry line in dealing with proto-humans, where the two overlap, but that is not the case here, yet.
    </pet peeve rant>
    When I did my field training for archaeology it was part of a public archaeology dig (which was directly linked to such projects as the coop mentioned in the story), where we were learning and teaching the public about what was going on. All of this happened in a public park in the center of town, and thus the overlap common sense.