Have you ever wanted to go to the Kenyan desert, and go on a hunt for fossils? Now you can without even leaving home. The University of Bradford and Turkana Basin Institute have started a collaborative online citizen science initiative called Fossil Finder.
Members of the public have been asked to help document what they can find from a million images from the arid Turkana Basin in northern Kenya. The area has had many finds of early human ancestors, and it is expected that finds may include fossil fragments, and other artefacts.
Adrian Evans, the project manager said, “This is a really exciting project that will allow enthusiasts who can’t get to those remote places to be fully involved as ‘citizen scientists’ to find new fossils as primary research data.”
The following is a video about fossil elephant excavation from the Turkana Basin in Kenya.
Dr. Andrew Wilson from the University of Bradford, one of the project’s leaders, told journalists at the British Science Festival: “It’s an opportunity for the public to take part in this immense search for new fossil material at Lake Turkana.”
Images were taken by archaeologists using a camera-mounted system on drones, and kites. Archaeologists, and anthropologists have collaboratively launched the new website, which now allows us to search for fossilized remains of animals, and early humans.
“This is a huge amount of material that couldn’t be searched by any one person, and it couldn’t really be searched effectively by a computerized system on its own,” Dr Wilson said.
The Turkana Basin is well-known for its ancient fossils, and has produced many fossils dated to be between 1.4, and 1.8 million years old — predating the first human ancestors. Sediments, which were laid down over millions of years by ancient rivers, and lakes are now slowly being eroded away. It is because of this erosion that new fossils are constantly being exposed.
Dr Randolph Donahue who is another team member said: “There are major questions to be answered; what’s the relationship of these different species? Which one turns out to be our ancestor?”
Watch the Provost Lecture by Louise Leakey, entitled a Search for Human Origins at Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya:
The first set of high-resolution images cover several square kilometers with a resolution of 3mm per pixel. There are larger areas of the images that overlap, marking important locations to the researchers.
Evans said: “The project is enabled by a step-change in imaging technology, which allows sub-millimeter ground resolution to be captured. Using this technology, we can capture images over fossil-bearing landscapes at an unprecedented scale.”
“That will help us to appreciate the zones of geological change, variations in past environment, and pinpoint more closely areas where interesting fossils are likely to appear.”
Watch the new human ancestor species video from Ethiopia:
When you visit fossilfinder.org you will be shown images, and asked a series of questions that will, for example, initially categorize the terrain as rocky or sandy.
Dr Donahue said: “After they get through talking about the different stones, and different kinds of sediments they get to more interesting questions about what sort of fossils and artifacts they might be seeing.”
The artifacts that can be found range from mammal bones and ancient hominin remains to ancient tools. Visitors also do not decide on their own with each image being shown to 10 other individuals. There is also a forum where you can communicate with other people about any new findings.
Dr Evans explains: “There’s a forum — so if you’ve got an image that you’re not quite sure what’s in it, you can click on a button, and post it. And then the community gets involved.”