If you know anything about real archaeology, you know it doesn't have that much in common with Indiana Jones. Finding ancient fossils involves less Nazi-punching and more scanning and digging.
It's still a rewarding pursuit, though. And now, you can join in and virtually hunt fossils in a real environment - Kenya's Turkana Basin.
Researchers at the Turkana Basin Institute and the U.K.'s University of Bradford have set up the Fossil Finder website to enlist the general public in helping them examine high-resolution surface images taken with drones and kites. "More eyes, more information, more discoveries," the site says.
In the Turkana Basin, east of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, the earth's crust is pulling apart, making the site ripe for exposing fossils. But the area is rugged and hot, so the researchers used unmanned drones and kite-based cameras to document its surface.
When you begin Fossil Finder, it presents you with an image and asks if it's good enough to study (other options are too blurry, too bushy, too dark, etc.). If you click "OK to study," it asks the density of surface rubble - rocks and pebbles on the surface.
You are then asked to classify the rocks on the surface with a little target - basalt, pumice, quartz, calcrete, claystone or sandstone. It gives you a guide to their characteristics as well, so you learn some geology while you're helping with the project.
After picking out the rock types, get ready to move close to your monitor. It's time for fossil hunting. With the same target tool, you mark any bones, teeth, shells or snails, or even stone tools that you see. It looks like this (click the photo to enlarge it):
Fossil Finder just launched on September 8, so the project is just getting started. Multiple people will look at the same aerial photos, so the researchers have more help using the website than they could possibly get at their respective institutes.
A team of scientists will review and catalogue the interesting items, and will send a field team out to the site to check out significant finds. A full excavation could even be launched.
The site explains why the researchers undertook the project: "Our ancestors existed alongside many other animals living by the swamps and rivers flowing into the ancestral lake Turkana. This lake basin grew and shrank over past times and sediments preserved the bones of animals that lived here. By identifying the sandstones and snails, fossils and other features on the surface we can piece together the palaeoenvironment going back in time."
You can get started fossil hunting by clicking here for the Fossil Finder website. Tell us about your experience as an amateur archaeologist in the comments below.