Stories from the Field

By James Flittner and Victor de Moor

So far the MEMSAP field season is going very well, with the lab crew busy and making great head-way whilst as always Sheila is very busy keeping up to date with analyzing the vast quantities of artefacts. The use of Malawi coffee is helping progress move swiftly. The surveys are also going great and we are covering many kilometres of the Malawi countryside. Usually we look for recently exposed Chitimwe beds, since these can contain in-situ MSA artefacts. In the northern catchments between Karonga and Tanzania however, there are no mapped Chitimwe areas, but we still find many MSA artefacts in other depositional environments. These artefacts are more weathered, indicating a more extensive transport than in some southern areas. Currently we are on the search in the south of Karonga District, where several mapped Chitimwe exposures are present in different river catchments. We are looking for new ‘sites’ that have preserved artefacts in their primary context, which can give us finer-scale information about behaviour of MSA people.

In our surveys we like to stay as mobile as the Neanderthals, setting up camp every few days in a different area. Sometimes setting up camp can attract a lot of attention from Malawians who are keen to see the what, who and why of our seemingly strange behaviour. Chatting and getting to know people around where we stay is some of the most fun we have in Malawi and is always an adventure. One thing we find confusing is getting the greetings right in all our different survey regions, because while Malawi is one country, it is divided into several different language regions. So one day we might be hailing everyone in a very poor accent with muli bwanji (how are you in Chichewa), when really we should be saying muli uli (how are you in Chitumbuka). And in the beginning of the surveys we kept mixing mwadzuka bwanji or mwaswela bwanji, and mwauka uli or mwatandala uli, respectively good morning and good afternoon in Chichewa and Chitumbuka. After several strange looks and grins from our first meetings and explanation from Davie, we return to speaking the appropriate language!

Sunrise Photo

After a long day of survey and analysis the evening comes, often with a spectacular sunset. It is winter at the moment in Malawi and this means it starts to get dark at around half past five. In the evenings, after cooking a delicious bean stew for dinner, there is some time to relax. The night sky is amazing with all the stars and the Milky Way. We also saw a very bright reddish star, which we think was Mars. And when the moon is full the light is easily bright enough to read a book or play a game of Yahtzee! Whilst experimenting with the longer exposure time needed to take pictures of the stars we discovered we could make some creative photos. Here is the result of a cloudless night and quite some trial and error.

photo art

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