Survival Guide: The Payoff

Image of man in cave looking at artifacts
Art by Istvan Banyai

The Payoff

Picture of Jeffrey Rose

Jeffrey Rose

National Geographic Emerging Explorer
Expertise: Human migration archaeologist
Location: Oman

Photograph by Scott DeGraw
My team members are from across the world—Ukraine, Germany, Italy, the U.S.—but often we don’t have anyone from the Arabian Peninsula, where we dig for evidence of ancient humans. So during our first year in the field, before I’d learned Arabic and there was Google Earth to help, I took on a local Bedouin guide. When I asked his fee, he responded, “We are brothers. It is my joy to take you around these places.” With a field budget of about $12,000 that had to cover equipment, car rental, and fuel, plus food and housing for eight men, I was more than happy to believe him.

Three days later, when it came time to part ways, he asked how much I was planning to pay him. I had no clue what he expected or what was considered fair, so I hesitantly offered the equivalent of around $50 a day. I’ll never forget the look on his face—something between crestfallen and furious. I hadn’t factored in that we work in the heart of Oman’s petroleum industry, so the locals are used to being paid by oil companies, not tiny archaeological survey projects. I saw the whole summer of fieldwork at risk. To make matters more complicated, we had found incredible archaeology at the site he’d taken us to. He thought it was worth some money.

What alternatives did I have? Perhaps I would be put in prison for not paying. He ushered us into the car and began driving full speed back to his village. There his father, the sheikh, ordered me to pay $100 a day and buy a goat for $100 to celebrate the success of our project. I paid, they slaughtered, all feasted. We got out of there. These days we are mostly looking for caves, where sediments and stone tools are best preserved. The locals avoid the caves at all costs: They think jinn, or demon spirits, live in there. Fine by us.

Related: Real-World Geography: Dr. Jeffrey Rose

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