Subterranean indigestion?

Rotten eggs, a smell I can put a name to, though I don’t think I’ve ever come across the real deal. A rotten egg, I mean.

But now I’m standing in the full glare of the tropical sun, wilting, weary – but willingly breathing in a sulphurous stench.

You might think that makes me just a little bit bananas. To which I might reply, possibly.


David, who’s come along to help us find the right place in the minimum amount of time (not our forte) is crouching over a tiny stream, just where it dips under a rock. He’s about to put an egg in the water with a utensil he borrowed from the kitchen before we set off.

Archaeo-man, meanwhile, is crouched at the base of a small mound above the stream poking around among bits of stone. He knows, even before he picks them up, they’re Later Stone Age. Little chips of rock with sharpened edges, tips for poisoned arrows.

341Sticking out of the ground are bones of small and large antelopes. A bit of lechwe here, a chunk of buffalo – or such-like – there.

Below the mound the parched earth and dehydrated stubble gives way to a lush green fringe of grass around a fountain.


A sort of a fountain. No submersible pump. No iron pipe. Just a hole, in a rock. Spurting out steaming water.

It’s the hot spring we came here to see.

Here, a dry, hot, dusty, bumpy, five-hour, pontoon-bridge of a journey away from the farm where we stayed last night.

355A few strides away is a round, innocuous-looking pool, slow-forming bubbles in its middle the only sign that it, too, is a spring. Steam rises like a cloud, it’s hot – very, very hot.

Above the pool, in the rainy season, the ground is soft. Last year two unwary elephants came this way. The first slid in, the second – we’ll never know why – followed. Stuck, the two mastodons stewed, not so gently, in the boiling liquid.

I ask the obvious question and the answer’s yes. The nearby villagers had a feast.

Elephant takeaway. Jumbo kebabs all round.

Which makes me wonder…

Did early humans learn to boil before they learned to barbecue? I can just see Wilma sitting there, patiently boiling guinea fowl in the hot spring, like she has done for years, while Fred chars a tiny antelope over a lightning strike fire he’s just discovered. Then it rains.

Just saying. Barbecues. Stone Age technology in action. OK, if you like that kind of thing, but hardly what you might call efficient.

But what about the egg?

I forgot to tell you. The idea was that it would cook in the spring.

Well, it vanished. Rolled under the rock, down into the depths of the earth where the hot-water god resides.

There he sits, eating hard-boiled eggs. And breathing out.

Egg breath.

feeding the hot water god

feeding the hot water god

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8 Responses to Subterranean indigestion?

  1. lidipiri says:

    Zambia? Where exactly? And wow.


    • Hi Lidia, it was near Itezhi-Tezhi not too far from the big hydroelectric dam where a Chinese company is currently doing more construction – considering which the fact it’s only accessible by dirt roads is really quite amazing. More Zambia experiencescoming soon (internet willing) hope you enjoy. Must go only 20 minutes left…


  2. John Kemp says:

    Thank you for this one, fascinating. There are hot springs in Malawi too, but not fountains like that -super photo. Poor elephants. Please please can we have photos of the implements? Is there likely to be work on that? But of course you’re MSA. Perhaps Prof Lamb might have taken some if she’s with you? Just out of interest. In the Valley, presumably, somewhere near the bounding fault, but me too I’d like to know where. Wish I were there!


    • Hello John. No, we’re not in the valley yet – that was near Itezhi-Tezhi where there’s a big hydroelectric project and thus a large ‘lake’. I’ve never seen a fountain like that – bubbling springs and streams, yes. What was also interesting was that the fountain moves around over time and there are rocks with the shape of old spouts in them. We haven’t brought any artefacts away (archaeological integrrity) and Lizzie left the bones well alone – no extinct baboons! I’ll send you a picture or 2 of the artefacts when we get back.


      • John Kemp says:

        Oops yes, artefacts, not implements. Found Itezhi-Tezhi, the lake along the east side of the Kafue National Park. “What”, I asked myself, “are hot springs doing there?”. So looked for a geological map and it looks as though it’s on the Mwembeshi Shear Zone, a very ancient structure (550 my), which might possibly account for the hot springs, but it’s probably too old. It would be interesting to know. Were you in the area for the Lost Great Lakes project?


  3. EllaDee says:

    In my experience rotten eggs smell far worse than sulfur water… a hen’s abandoned nest is something you no more want to disturb than a nest of snakes. I can stand the smell of the sulfide gas without gagging but a broken rotten chook egg… it’s possible to gag and run at the same time.
    I’m not one for soft boiled eggs so while the tale is entertaining, I wouldn’t be mourning the loss of the egg. I’m happy for the villagers in their feast of windfall elephants… waste not want not, I guess, but I bet after eating elephant for a week or so straight all the other ambulatory local elephants were safe for a while.


    • Well it sounds as if it’s a good thing I never smelt a rotten egg!I didn’t mourn the egg either – he said it would take 15 minutes to hard boil but it seems a chicken cooks in 25 minutes…. In the very hot pond they don’t cook as things cook too fast. The elephants would indeed have been a big treat.


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