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Homo Erectus Discovery
APRIL 2005
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In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Rebecca Hale

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Homo Erectus Discovery On Assignment Author On Assignment
Homo Erectus Discovery

     Aside from just being in an extraordinarily beautiful area like Dmanisi, I had a great time working with a very cool multinational expedition. There were paleontologists and anthropologists from the republic of Georgia, the United States, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Italy, and they were all thrown together to dig through layers of rock at this excavation site. No one nationality dominated, and to help the time go by faster, everyone sang songs, mostly American pop tunes from the '80s and '90s, which seemed to transcend national boundaries. And in the evenings people painstakingly sorted tiny bone fragments from massive piles of shattered rock. They were an incredible group of motivated and energetic people.      The excavation was rich in fossil animals, so an Italian herpetologist named Massimo Delfino was on site. His interests extended beyond fossils to live snakes, which he found in the woods. One day he came back with this pretty black, smooth snake, a Coronella austriaca. It was about a foot long and about as harmless as a garden snake, though it didn't like being handled. It actually bit Massimo twice, but I still wanted to take a look at it. I let it crawl all over me, but I pulled it out when it tried to get inside my shirt. That's when it took a whack at my thumb. I think the snake probably left most of its teeth in Massimo's arm earlier, and it wasn't poisonous. But at least I can now say that I was attacked by a snake while on assignment for National Geographic. It sounds pretty impressive, until you ask for the details.      I was walking around the woods near the dig site, and I ran into four guys picnicking with wine, cheese, sausage, and jugs of homemade Georgian wine. They didn't speak English, and I didn't speak Georgian, so they poured me a full glass of wine and we toasted in lieu of conversation. This went on for about two or three hours. But every time I tried to leave—I was supposed to be writing a story, after all—they seemed very hurt. I didn't want to insult their generosity, so I just sat there and smiled until it started getting late in the day. Then I just got up, bowed deeply, and ran. 
     When I finally got back to the field camp, I told everyone what happened. They just laughed because they'd all had similar experiences with friendly Georgians who'd "abducted" them. We all started to refer to this local custom as "picnapping."