Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Haley Reading Group: Amy Maxmen’s "Digging Through the World’s Oldest Graveyard"


[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015)]

By Cynthia A. Campbell

Amy Maxmen’s article “Digging Through the World’s Oldest Graveyard” highlights paleoanthropologists Zeresenay Alemseged and Berhane Asfaw’s expeditions to locate fossils and human skeletal remains in Ethiopia. Maxmen illuminates the discovery of and process of dating the human remains found. Ultimately, the article speaks to Ethiopia being this significant geographical region in understanding the evolution of humans.

Maxmen’s discussion of Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus) was especially enlightening. At one point, Maxmen notes that “the analysis took 15 years and 47 researchers to paint a full picture of…and her surroundings” (184). This point indicates the intricacies and painstaking efforts of thorough research.

In your view, what was most memorable or useful about Maxmen’s article?

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

The most memorable thing to me about the article was how passionate Alemseged was about his research. The article explained that in order to find the fossils he needed, he had to travel through the desert, with armed guards needed to protect him, fighting malaria, and trying to stay safe from snakes and scorpions. It was remarkable that he was willing to put his life on the line and give up opportunities for economic gain just so that he could do his research.

Marina T.

Jovahna Williams said...

The fact that Alemseged was willing to put his life on the line to try to find fossils that very well may have been broken down by the time he was able to get them to a place where he could examine them properly is astonishing. Just for a sliver of economic gain he was willing to put his entire life on the line which takes a lot of courage and determination.

Jovahna W.

Isaiah Jackson said...

The most memorable thing to me about Maxmen's article is the amount of information we learned just from the existence of ancient tools. We were able to learn things like our ancestors' brain sizes and hunting or gathering strategies. It was also memorable that these tools gave us an idea of how well our ancestors learned and taught complex information (187).

Alexis S. said...

The most memorable thing about Maxmen's article was the description of Alemseged and his team's journey. I found it very fascinating how they spent many days in the dry heat digging up many fossils that would be used to help his research. I also found it admirable that even though he does all of this hard work and is not credited in major academic journals, he is still very passionate about his research and is not fazed by it.

Anonymous said...

The most memorable thing to me was when Rector explained how different the climate and environment was 3 million years ago. It was interesting because he named many different animals, how the rivers flowed, the black mounds, and the description of the life of Lucy. The way he explained every thing really made you imagine the life and every beautiful aspect of it.

Deja T.

Anonymous said...

It was the first expedition for Alemseged where he showed a lot of passion for his research. Much of the article talked about the struggles of trying to find the fossils which shows the extent the field researchers would go to discover fossils. What interested me more was the process as researchers argued over where the skulls they discovered originated from. Nevertheless each would still respect another's approach in science.
Thomas Siganga

Anonymous said...

It was the first expedition for Alemseged where he showed a lot of passion for his research. Much of the article talked about the struggles of trying to find the fossils which shows the extent the field researchers would go to discover fossils. What interested me more was the process as researchers argued over where the skulls they discovered originated from. Nevertheless each would still respect another's approach in science.
Thomas Siganga

Anonymous said...

It was the first expedition for Alemseged where he showed a lot of passion for his research. Much of the article talked about the struggles of trying to find the fossils which shows the extent the field researchers would go to discover fossils. What interested me more was the process as researchers argued over where the skulls they discovered originated from. Nevertheless each would still respect another's approach in science.
Thomas Siganga

Sable M. said...

The most memorable thing of the article is Maxmen's viewpoint. Though she went there for her own purpose and insight on mankind, she went even further outside the bubble so to speak. She went outside of her train of thought and paid attention to others such as Zeray like their actions, excitability, and discoveries. She didn't limit herself to her own train of thought

Anonymous said...

The most memorable part, for me, of "Digging Through the World's Largest Graveyard" was the third paragraph on page 179. I think it showed what kind of researcher Alemseged was when it said, "Alemseged had no salaried scientific position and refused to accompany teams led by accomplished researchers going to safer areas with fat grants." This showed that he was truly in it for himself and he had no extrinsic motivation. I also found it very inspiring that he was confident in himself that "he could discover academic gold." He also showed a lot of independence on page 180 when he was talking about how he was paying for it out of pocket, driving himself and cooking his own meals. I think overall this paragraph could inspire people because he was doing this all on his own and he was confident that the work he was doing would all pay off in the end.
Cecelia S.

Phoenix Johnson said...

What makes the passage so outstanding is it shows the determination of Alemseged for digging up this grave. All he had was his tools, soldiers, and determination. It was amazing how the story tells about the land and terrain he went through like the desert and jungle. The story is amazing for seeing a determinated journey.

Dasmin W. said...

The most useful moment I found interesting was all the ancient fossil facts. I did not know their was a another species before Lucy. I also learned many cool facts about Lucy like that she had slow development as a child and that she walked on two feet. All this information was new and interesting to me.

Anonymous said...

The most memorable thing for me was the determination and perseverance Alemseged showed when things got difficult. It was interesting for me that he did most things by himself and did not need a whole crew because in today's day and age when you read about excavation missions its often large scale groups where everyone has different jobs. Another thing I found memorable from this story was the many discoveries that were made and helped to give us a better understanding for a period of time we will only ever speculate about.

Alexis R.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed his passion for his work and the dedication that he showed. The knowledge about the ancient tools was really cool and learning about Lucy and the fact that there is an older species was mind boggling.
Breann Walton

Anonymous said...

The most memorable thing for me was the determination and perseverance Alemseged showed when things got difficult. It was interesting for me that he did most things by himself and did not need a whole crew because in today's day and age when you read about excavation missions its often large scale groups where everyone has different jobs. Another thing I found memorable from this story was the many discoveries that were made and helped to give us a better understanding for a period of time we will only ever speculate about.

Alexis R.

Anonymous said...

The most memorable part of the article was the fact that Alemseged was very determined to find these fossils that him and his team were searching for. Also, his determination showed that he felt very strongly on this finding and that he was willing to put his life on the line to find these fossils.

-Kennedy M.

Anonymous said...

This posts reminds me something my mum always tells me: passion will make you move mountains.
I’ve observed passionate people, and one characteristic that links them together is DETERMINATION Alemseged was really passionated with his research. So passionate that he did not hesitate to risk his life to find those fossil. I believe that at some point he was scared because he is human, but his passion was enough to atenuate his fears.

I resume this article by a reflection: “The road is long, you will encounter many challenge, there will be ups and down, but with a little strength and a huge amount of determination, you can make it”.

The most beautiful things are the thoughest to get.

Geonel M

Anonymous said...

The most memorable part of this reading was learning about all the different fossils and tools used to dig them up. The author really gave us a lot of information on the different ways other researchers were going about their research. However, Almenseged had his own plan on how he was going to conduct his digs. To him it was more important to be creative and think out of the box is more important to him.
He wasn't worried about the fancy grants and even paid for his excursions on his own. Almensged's overall courage and independence to go after what he wanted stood out the most to me and just the conditions he went through actually could be used as a way of inspiring others.
Jasmine S.

Justin J said...

This article is interesting because it explains the amount of work and obstacles Alemseged worked through to reach his goals. The most memorable part of the article was the part describing how he journeyed through different areas fighting off animals and diseases. It also put into perspective the importance of African countries and their link to the first humans. Even though his research was hard and almost deadly, he did it for the greater good of society.
-Justin J

Anonymous said...

I think the most memorable thing about Maxmen's article was how passionate Asfaw was about his work and exploration. I liked how he was genuinely curious about fossils and early human evolution. Also, I liked how he didn't sell out for money or fame. He truly seemed in loved with his work. He even said how he felt like the most privileged person just because he got to work with fossils. (pg.185)

Anonymous said...

I think the most memorable thing about Maxmen's article was Asfaw's passion for his work and exploration. I liked how he was geniunely curious about fossils and early human evolution. Also, I liked how he didn't sell out for money or fame. He truly seemed to enjoy himself. He even said how he felt like the most privileged person just because he go to live with fossils. (pg.185)
Lillien W.

Kellee Thier said...

Alemseged is an incredible researcher. He sacrificed his life to find something he is very passionate about. His findings are incredible because they bring up new questions on what we thought is the history of humans. He traveled across rough terrain and did all of this without a salary to do what he loves. Without his research, a lot of information about fossils would be missing.
Kellee.T

Anonymous said...

Alemseged's and Asfaw's commitment to their research and dedication to find their personal pieces to the human evolution puzzle was admirable! As a Christian, the Theory of Evolution has always been a subject like Voldemort (not to be mentioned), but this article peaked my interest. I found Alemseged's 2006 findings of the hominid child remains, Selam, more than interesting. These findings along with the other artifacts found (stone tools), enlightened me. Maxmen's article was useful because it stimulates conversation and new curiosity about current and future research in the science of human evolution. Miles W.

Anonymous said...

To me the most memorable thing was how it said that Asfaw had been offered great positions in rich countries where he could make a lot of moneh but he turns them down because he’s so passionate about fossils and they’re a very important part of his life, and he’d rather do something that he loves and enjoys than do something else just to make money and recognition.
Gianna T.

Unknown said...

The most memorable thing that caught my attention was how Alemseged was able to look back and reflect after such a journey he had took on. The comment he made toward the end about realizing being apart of a long line of people just as he and the tribes encountered were apart of having that shifted is a very tough thing to go through.
Khalia K.

Anonymous said...

The most interesting and memorable thing in my opinion was all the fossil information that the passage supplied. Evolution is a touchy topic to many people and it was refreshing to read of wholesome research into the area.


Courteney W.

Unknown said...

I like the fact that he was so passionate about his work. He even turns down higher positions that would probably pay more because he is so passionate about his work