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Fieldwork: A Geologist's Memoir of the Kalahari

Christopher Scholz
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 196
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Christopher Scholz, an internationally recognized expert in the geological fields of seismology and tectonics, here offers a captivating memoir of a three-month-long field expedition to northern Botswana.Fieldworktracks the adventures of a group of American scientists trying to gather critical data in some of the wildest and most inhospitable parts of Africa. Scholz effectively captures the unique challenges and obstacles faced in this kind of scientific endeavor, including mysterious encounters with a primitive bushman tribe and unavoidable dealings with belligerent local officials and even near-fatal stampedes by rampaging elephants. It is through this absorbing tale that Scholz offers a paean to the long and unique traditions of geological fieldwork, and provides readers with an inside view of the trials and joys of scientific fieldwork.

    The goal of the Scholz expedition was to determine, by recording tiny natural earthquakes, if a previously unknown arm of the East African Rift system had propagated into the Kalahari Desert from the north.Fieldworktracks the quest of the scientist for a solution to a specific geological problem from the motivations of the scientist, to the initial formulation of the problem, through to the data collection, and finally, the assembly of the critical evidence.

    Originally published in 1998.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6453-9
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Map
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. 1
    (pp. 3-4)

    Teddy and I were sitting about twenty yards apart. We had been like that for more than an hour, hunched up against the trunks of a couple of mopani trees as we waited for the herd of elephants to leave the grove we were in. They had moved into the grove from several directions and by the time we had noticed them we had lost any chance of retreating back to the Land Rover. There was nothing for us to do in the meantime but wait them out and to try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Climbing a tree...

  4. 2
    (pp. 5-22)

    It was in the austral spring of 1974, and I had my reasons for being out there trying to record earthquakes in the hot sun of northern Botswana. In any scientific endeavor there are several types of reasons for taking on one particular project rather than another, just as there are different sets of goals. There are the goals of the customer, the agency or company that is paying for the work, and there are also genuine scientific goals, in which one seeks to solve an original problem which will contribute to the understanding of some subject. These may or...

  5. 3
    (pp. 23-34)

    Africa is a continent like no other. It is unusually flat and high, with vast reaches of its interior consisting of wide plateaus. One may find there escarpments that resemble serrated mountain ridges, but these are capped, not by a summit but by a broad highland. There are isolated volcanic edifices, like Mount Kilimanjaro, or the remote and forboding Ahaggar of southern Algeria, but there are no true mountain ranges, with the exception of the Atlas of Morocco and the Cape Fold Belt in the extreme south.

    In the north, Africa is impinging upon Eurasia; but with the exception of...

  6. 4
    (pp. 35-52)

    The Cumberland Hotel, a massive pile in blistered and peeling pink stucco, squatted on a flat dusty expanse on the outskirts of Lobatse. As though to spite its unprepossessive form and setting, inside it presented a fading pretentiousness that seemed a relic of some glorious though ersatz colonial past. It had a grand dining room, august and empty, off a spacious foyer that managed to disguise the tawdriness of the guest accommodations, a row of shabby rooms tucked along a corrugated-roofed balcony overlooking a scraggy garden in the back of the building. The rooms were fitted out with cute amenities...

  7. 5
    (pp. 53-61)

    There was finally some good news for us when we met the Air Alaska flight on Thursday afternoon. The chief pilot, Duncan, walked over as soon as he spotted us waiting among the usual welcoming party. “Your shipment will be on tomorrow’s regular Zambia Airline flight to Gabs.”

    “Great! What happened?”

    “Oh, no problem. When we showed them your paperwork, those boys jumped to attention. They don’t want to lose their piece of the cartage, see. No fear, it’ll be on tomorrow’s flight. We watched them put it aboard ourselves.”

    The next day, sure enough, it arrived in Gaborone. We...

  8. 6
    (pp. 62-76)

    The dining room at Riley’s was a far cry from the Cumberland’s. It also was staffed by a waiter wearing a red jacket and tassled fez over baggy trousers and taped-up sneakers, but otherwise it was unpretentious, with a dozen oilcloth-topped tables in a sunny room. We sat at a table next to a window where a group of weaverbirds were making their nests. They were slender, teardrop-shaped constructions, with tiny entrance holes near their bases, like slim delicate jai alai baskets. The bright yellow and green birds busily flitted back and forth, adding tiny fibrous bundles to their fine...

  9. 7
    (pp. 77-95)

    There is no town or village at Toteng. It is simply a locality, a place with no more merit than a name to indicate a particular spot, and useful for filling in blank spaces on maps of such cartographically empty regions as the Kalahari. We set up our camp on a low bluff above the Nhabe River, which drains the Okavango down from the north into its saline sump, Lake Ngami. There were a few huts on the other bank of the river; otherwise there was nothing there of note but a low bridge of wooden poles, newly reinforced by...

  10. 8
    (pp. 96-109)

    It was while we were working out of Toteng, remote from any town, that our party solidified into a tight working team. Our daily routines were very simple and indistinguishable from one day to the other, because we took no days off except once in a fortnight or so when we went into Maun for supplies and a bit of R & R. Every morning Deacon would wake us at 6:30 with coffee, which he now made the way I had taught him—stirring the grounds into boiling water in a coffee-can billy, then, after a few rolls, removing it...

  11. 9
    (pp. 110-120)

    We left Maun for the north very early in the morning. Barring mishaps, we had at least ten hours’ driving to reach our campsite at Ngwezumba in the Chobe National Park. This was cutting it close, since we had to reach our destination early enough to get camp set up well before sundown, and there were no possible intermediate stopping places. For that reason, we had loaded up our camp in Toteng the previous afternoon and moved it up to Maun for provisioning in preparation for an early departure. Teddy and I had followed along later and had managed to...

  12. 10
    (pp. 121-132)

    Deacon was uncharacteristically silent on our first morning at Ngwezumba. There was none of his usual humming to himself as he clattered around the cooking area preparing our coffee and breakfast, and not much of the clattering, either. He served us stiffly, without his usual morning greetings, but let us finish eating before confronting me with what was obviously a prepared message from the crew.

    “This very bad place, boss. Crew not like it here. Very afraid. Crew want to leave this place, boss.”

    “What exactly is the crew afraid of, Deacon?”

    “Elephant, boss. Elephant most cruel. Crew very afraid...

  13. 11
    (pp. 133-146)

    The following day did not pass without repercussions from our encounter with the elephants. We stayed in camp until midmorning because it was a day scheduled for going in to Kasane for supplies. I was first approached by Blackie, who had a roundabout way of discussing the problem.

    “Boss,” he said, “We got to be leaving this place soon. Da crew, they want to go home. Soon the rains come. When de rains come, their houses going to melt. Dey got to be home to take care of them.”

    “I understand, Blackie. But now we are getting good data, so...

  14. 12
    (pp. 147-158)

    The national election day was coming up and the crew had to go into Maun to vote, so Teddy and I decided to take a holiday and go to Victoria Falls. My original plan was to drive to Kasane, and crossing the border there to take the road along the Zambezi to Victoria Falls. When I told this to Blackie he said that the best way to go to Victoria Falls was instead by way of Panda-ma-tenga. I had my doubts about that. Panda-ma-tenga was on the Rhodesian border due east of us. Although it was true that on the...

  15. 13
    (pp. 159-170)

    We set up a fly camp at our usual spot outside of Maun. There were a lot more camps dotted about in the scrub than usual, many groups having come into Maun from the outlying districts for the Independence Day celebrations. Riley’s was jam-packed on the eve of the big day. Across the street in the big square a soccer field had been freshly chalked, and a sort of arena ringed with bleachers had been set up under a big olive-drab canvas tent. Crowds of people were strolling around the square and wandering in and out of Riley’s, creating an...

  16. 14
    (pp. 171-187)

    After recuperating from our Independence Day celebrations we headed up north to establish our last camp, in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve deep within the Okavango. The Moremi is a triangular peninsula of dry land that extends far into the swamps at the northern end of the Okavango. It is entirely within Batawana Tribal Territory, and is operated as a commercial enterprise catering to air safari groups that fly into the Khwai River Lodge and from thence are conducted through the reserve in guided parties. Those who take such tours will not be disappointed: The reserve shelters a wildlife population of...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 188-190)

    Back in the comfort of Lamont, after a month or so of rest and recuperation I sat down to analyze the data. Our haul had been meager enough, but it turned out to be just sufficient to nail down the main elements of my hypothesis. We had recorded microearthquakes on enough instruments to get good locations for about fifty of them. These showed a band of seismic activity running northeasterly from just south of Lake Ngami all the way to the Zambezi, following the activity stepping over to the east to join up with the Kariba Gorge activity. From these...