Cost World

An international expedition has discovered giant monitor lizards and 40 unidentified species of rats, bats, frogs, and fish tucked inside the crater of an extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea. Photo essay of some of the critters here.

Just as interesting is the story of the expedition’s logistics. With the volcano situated deep in the rainforest 15 miles from the closest village, the explorers first had to drop some Adam Smith on the residents:

They also had to explain to local hunter-gatherers the concept of paying them to help establish a base camp near the village. Elders, trackers and boatmen were among 25 local people employed by the international team of 25 scientists and filmmakers, who also required a cook, a medic and a climbing expert to help them scale trees.

Concerned not to eat the village out of food, the scientists employed local people to plant sweet potatoes and a spinach-like crop in preparation for their expedition in January, reducing the amount of corned beef and rice flown in via helicopters, the only means of transport to the village.

I once heard an archaeologist say the reason more work wasn’t done at MeroĆ« — the land of the Black Pharaohs — was racism. The real answer is cost and logistics. One of my frustrations with the portrayal of Egyptian archaeology on television is that camera crews only show the pyramids at Giza or the Valley of the Kings, never venturing into the oases or past the First Cataract of the Nile. To do so would involve leaving behind the convenience of Cairo and Luxor, which is another way of saying they’d have to spend more money. Now imagine scraping together the funds to delve into the deep deserts of Sudan without the profit motive of prime time behind you.

It’s telling that BBC camerafolks accompanied the Papua New Guinea expedition. Not that I begrudge them; if anything, universities should do away with their grant-writing seminars and instead school their field scientists in how to pitch TV execs. Maybe then we’d see more MeroĆ« in the news.

Froggy photo by Ulla Lohmann for the BBC.