Confirmation of the murders came by way of two shocking films shot by holidaymakers. The first was initially believed to show a dolphin fishing for salmon - until closer examination revealed a relentless attack on a porpoise. . .The team described the mammals’ injuries as “perhaps the worst example of inter-specific aggression any of us had ever seen. This young female had literally had the life beaten out of her.”
The Daily Telegraph
January 25, 2008
The attack was. . .the first recorded instance of lethal raiding among chimpanzees. Until the attack. . .scientists treated the remarkable violence of humanity as something uniquely ours. Scientists thought that only humans deliberately sought out and killed members of their own species.
Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson
* * * * *
THE tattered windsock hangs limp against its pole. Weeds erupt through fissures in the ancient pavement of the runway where she stands, and in the distance, support beams rise from heaps of twisted metal—three hangars, long since toppled upon a half dozen single- and twin-engine airplanes. She watches the Beechcraft that brought her here lift off the ground, props screaming, and climb to clear the pines a quarter mile past the end of the runway. She walks into the field. The midmorning sun blazing down on her bare shoulders. The grass that grazes her sandaled feet still cold with dew. Someone jogs toward her, and beyond them she can see the team already at work, imagines they started the moment the light became worth a damn.
The young man who has come to greet her smiles and tries to take her duffle bag, but she says, “No, I’ve got it, thanks,” and keeps walking, her eyes catching on the colony of white canvas tents standing several football fields away near the northern edge of the forest. Still probably an insufficient distance to avoid the stink when the wind blows out of the south.
“Good flight in?” he asks.
“It’s so cool to finally meet you. I’ve read all about your work. I’m even using two of your books in my thesis.”
“That’s great. Good luck with it.”
“You know, there’s a few decent bars in town. Maybe we could get together and talk sometime?”
She lifts the strap of her heavy bag, swings it onto the other shoulder, and ducks under the yellow crime scene tape that circumnavigates the pit.
They arrive at the edge.
The young man says, “I’m doing my thesis on—”
“I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“I don’t mean to be rude, Matt, but could you give me a minute alone here?”
“Oh, sure. Yeah, of course.”
Matt heads off toward the tents, and she lets her bag slide off her shoulder into the grass, estimating the dimensions of the pit at thirty-five meters by twenty meters, and presently attended to by nine people, seemingly oblivious to the flies and the stench, each in their respective worlds, doing what they walk this earth to do. She sits down and watches them work. Nearby, a man with shoulder-length graying hair buries a pickax into a wall of dirt. A young woman—probably another intern—flits from station to station, filling a bucket with backdirt to be added to the mound of gravefill near the southern edge of the pit. Everywhere that human remains have been exposed, red flags stand thrust into the earth. She stops counting them after thirty. The nearest anthropologist appears on the verge of pedestaling a skeletonized body, down to the detail work now—poking chopsticks between ribs to clear out the dirt. Other skeletons lie partially exposed in the upper layers. The remnants of human beings with whom she will become closely acquainted in the weeks to come. Deeper, the dead are more than likely mummified, possibly even fleshed depending on the water content of the grave. Beside the autopsy tent on the other side, tables have been erected in the grass, and at one of them, a woman she recognizes from a previous UN mission is at work reassembling a small skeleton on a black velvet cloth to be photographed.
She realizes she’s crying. Tears are fine, even healthy in this line of work, just never on the clock, never in the grave. If you lose control down there, you might never get it back.
Approaching footsteps snap her out of her reverie. She wipes her face and looks up, sees Sam coming toward her, the bald and scrawny Australian team leader who always wears a tie, especially in the field, his rubber boots swishing through the grass. He plops down beside her, reeking of decomp. Rips off the pair of filthy, elbow-length gloves and tosses them in the grass.
“How many have you taken out so far?” she asks.
“Twenty-nine. Mapping system shows a hundred and fifty, hundred and seventy-five still down in there.”
“What’s the demographic?”
“Men. Women. Children.”
“Yeah, we’ve collected a ton of .223 Remington casings. But this is another weird one. Same thing we saw in that mass grave in Denver. Maybe you heard about it.”
“Have you determined what was used?”
“In most instances, it’s not a clean break, like a machete or ax strike. These bones are splintered.”
“A chainsaw would do that.”
“So I’m thinking they cut everyone down with AR-15s, and then went through with chainsaws. Making sure no one crawled out.”
The blond hairs on the back of her neck stand erect, a rod of ice descending her spine. The sun burns down out of the bright June sky, more intense for the elevation. Brushstrokes of snow linger above timberline on the distant peaks.
“You okay?” Sam asks.
“Yeah. Just that this is my first mission out west. I’d been working New York City up until now.”
“Look, take the day if you want. Get yourself acclimated. You’ll need your head right for this one.”
“No.” She stands, hoisting the duffle bag out of the grass and engaging that compartment in her brain that functions solely as a cold, indifferent scientist. “Let’s go to work.”
* * * * *
There is no decent place to stand in a massacre.
* * * * *
THE president had just finished addressing the nation, and the anchors and pundits were back on the airwaves, scrambling, as they had been for the last three days, to sort out the chaos.
Dee Colclough lay watching it all on a flatscreen from a ninth-floor hotel room ten minutes from home, a sheet twisted between her legs, the air-conditioning cool against the film of sweat on her skin.