Traveling to Kenya to search for fossils used to be an expensive, time-consuming proposition. Now, all you need is an Internet connection.
A new project called Fossil Finder debuted today. Researchers uploaded high resolution images of the surface of the Turkana basin, a vast, fossil-rich area in Northern Kenya. They hope that people around the world will visit the site and help them identify potential fossils by answering a few guided questions.
When a visitor reaches the site, they are presented with a picture of the rock-strewn ground. The pictures will have a resolution high enough to show details as fine as 1/80th of an inch wide, or about 100 times better than the resolution of a Google Maps satellite image. Then, you can classify whether the picture is usable (if it’s too blurry or dark, then you can skip), and note details like how many rocks are in the picture, and what kinds of items are on the ground. (The researchers provide a handy guide if you have questions.)
The sediments in the pictures date to about 4 million years old at the oldest, so you aren’t going to find any dinosaurs. But you could find fossilized snails, or even human ancestors, known as hominins.
“Maybe if somebody finds a new fragment from the latest 1.4 million-year-old hominin, they’ll get a chance to be on the committee that names it,” Adrian Evans, one of the lead researchers on the project told the BBC. “They might even get a 3D print, if it’s a particularly nice fossil.”
Even if you don’t sort through the photos you can keep track of the project’s progress on their blog, or learn more about fossils that have already been found in the area at African Fossils, an educational website.