Monday, July 9, 2012

Where are we!? How did we end up here?

I realized that while most people are enjoying our blog about our random adventures, many of you don’t know why we actually came to Cyprus for such an extended stay, other than it has to do with my “pretty hard dissertation” (as Ryan likes to call it). Its also a possibility as my days begin to be filled with less new and exciting adventures and more tedious work that my writing may shift, at least periodically, to dissertation related woes/accomplishments/what have you. So here it goes… a quick and dirty frame of reference.

I’m working towards my PhD in archaeology and the University of Washington. My ‘specialty’ is in zooarchaeology. Essentially what that means is I look at the animal parts (faunal remains) at archaeological sites and/or paleontological sites that may have been impacted by humans in the past indirectly (like looking for changing population sizes or locations that may have been the result of human hunting etc). For my dissertation I will be doing some traditional zooarchy stuff (like relative skeletal abundance, demography, looking for cutmarks etc) of which I won’t bog you down with the details of right now. I’ll ease you all into that J I will also be trying to apply some ancient DNA techniques to estimate population dynamics (size change for example) through time. Still with me? Its at this point where I’m not sure if people are extremely bored and just hear “wah wah wah” when I talk or if they think its super exciting. I’ll assume it’s the later and continue…

So my dissertation work, and the reason why we are all in Cyprus, is based on an extinct species of pygmy hippo. While I don’t know for sure (as they went extinct around 10,000 years ago) I am certain they were the cutest things ever. Here is a picture of the only extant (living) species of pygmy hippo for reference:

This little guy is from west Africa and is not very closely related to my species, but size is roughly the same (adults are the size of large pigs) and they are both hippos so… close enough. And it proves my point that they were freakin’ adorable.

So there is a site on the island of Cyprus, at the tip of the Akrotiri Peninsula. Its called Akrotiri Aetokremnos. This site is the oldest archaeological site on the island and potentially the oldest site in all of the Mediterranean (so the first indisputable evidence of human beings on the islands). Pretty cool stuff. It is also the last site where these hippos are found. Before this site the hippos are all over the island in paleontological sites (there were also pygmy elephants!). Because of this relationship, some archaeologists argue that humans hunted this species to extinction and are the cause for their disappearance. It gets pretty complicated at this point because just as many people argue that they could have gone out because of climate change, loss of resources etc. I won't get into the details here, but the point is that it is a big debate and hovers right around a 50/50 split among archaeologists. 

So why the arguments? I think one main reason is no one has done a detailed analysis of the hippo bones! Its hard to say what happened to the animals without really looking at them. There have been a few smaller studies done looking at samples of the assemblage but nothing comprehensive enough to paint the full picture. Well, thats just silly! Why not? I'll tell you why not... there are over 220,000 hippo bones. Yes, 220,000. I'm going to give you a minute to let that sink in. 

If I walked heel toe along the equator, after 220,000 steps I would have circled the globe over twice. Ok... I'll give you a minute to let that one sink in too.

So that, my friends, is why no one has done it yet. Being the crazy person I am, I figured why the heck not. So here we are. I am going to do my best to get through as many of those bones in the next three months as possible.

So, while this trip and travel may seem glamorous at times, just remember that most of my days (and nights) are spent doing the most tedious things ever... like looking and 1 inch fragments of a bone and trying to figure out what it is and where it goes. x220,000.


  1. Loving your blog! Thanks for posting, I was wondering what you guys were doing over there, so glad your family can join you! Did you have to get government approval to inspect the bones?

  2. I'm so glad you like it! I did have to get permission. It was pretty easy for me, mainly because the guy who originally excavated the site wrote on my behalf and said he would like me to look at them. With his support they had no problems! I'm not sure how easy/difficult it would be without that connection.