'Citizen science' project will let anyone search for ancient fossils from the comfort of their homes

A million high-res aerial photographs will be available for 'crowd sourcing'

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From today, anyone with a computer and internet connection can take part in a “citizen science” project to search for ancient fossils in a remote corner of East Africa without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

Archaeologists and anthropologists are launching a new website today that allows people to search for the fossilised remains of animals and early humans in the so-called cradle of mankind in the Turkana Basin of Kenya.

A million high-resolution aerial photographs of the area, some more detailed than what a person can see by standing directly over the ground, will be available for “crowd sourcing” in order to identify anything that may look like a fossil fragment. The public is being asked to mark anything they believe to be a fossil after being trained to identify one.

“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,” said Adrian Evans, the project’s manager at Bradford University.

“The project is enabled by a step-change in imaging technology which allows  sub-millimetre ground resolution to be captured. Using this technology we can capture images over fossil bearing landscape at an unprecedented scale,” Dr Evans said.

“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,” he said.

The Turkana Basin is famous for its ancient fossils, some dating back to some of the first human ancestors. Gradual erosion is constantly exposing fossils from sediments laid down by ancient rivers and lakes many millions of years ago.

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