Mark Bryant used the back of his hand to wipe the sweat from his brow and returned to using his brushes to carefully sweep the sand from the skeletal remains at his knees. The snake pit of nerves in his stomach seemed to churn faster as more of the bones were revealed and he had to compose himself, taking deliberately slow sips of water from his flask, lest he rush things and ruin the find of the century.
The desert sands were now in his shorts and in-between every one of his toes, and probably in places he hadn’t thought possible, but Mark didn’t care. Every new stroke of his brush revealed more of the revolutionary remains, and he would endure every discomfort thrown at him for this. Not even the intense Sahara sun could stop him, even if his previously white shirt was now a deep grey where sweat had soaked it.
“Can we excavate yet?” Asked his tired assistant. The younger man was holding up a shade, looking bored.
“No Jeremy. I don’t know how fragile the specimen is.” Mark replied, without looking up from his work. It was a struggle to keep the annoyance from his voice.
“Oh come on Professor, we can’t do all this just to leave it here!”
Mark closed his eyes, suppressed a sigh, then opened them again, looking up at the young man. It was a good thing Jeremy had his looks – one young woman had described him as a Gérard Butler/Tom Hiddleston hybrid – because his academic acumen needed shoring up.
“I don’t plan on leaving it here Jeremy. I plan on making sure it can moved safely, which means making sure we’ve unearthed all of it. If you’d spent more time at my lectures and less time as a fashion model, you’d know this.”
Jeremy harumphed but didn’t reply. Mark was grateful for the quiet; refocused, he continued to clear away and clean the skeleton.
Large cranium, big eye sockets and a small body. A missing link perhaps? The idea was an exciting one. To be the one who made such a discovery… Well, it would mean plenty of grant money at least, maybe a Nobel Prize…
The arms were next to unveil. The left arm was first, and it struck Mark has being quite long. He was wondering where the hand was, when he finally came across it.
Six fingers, weird… Mark stopped abruptly as the brush swept over something smooth and polished.
“What is that?” Asked Jeremy.
“I don’t know… Jeremy don’t!” Mark snapped. The young man had been reaching out for the item.
“It looks like a little metal ball.”
“I can see that Jeremy. What we most certainly shouldn’t do is touch it, not before we have some idea what it is.”
Jeremy looked suitably chastened and recoiled from the little metallic sphere. The sun glinted off it quite sharply, which yet another reason to consider it remarkable.
“Jeremy, fetch my camera please.”
After a few moments he’d returned with the camera, and Mark immediately started taking pictures, zooming in to get close ups of the thing in the skeleton’s hand. For good measure, he added to the photos he’d already taken of the skeleton itself. From the corner of his eye, he noticed Jeremy take a few snaps on his smartphone, but he didn’t mind – it wouldn’t hurt to have extra images.
“What do you think it is? A tool, like a rock that a chimp would use?”
Mark had already considered and disregarded that idea. His heart was racing, and he suddenly felt entirely out of his depth, but there was no point in alarming or exciting Jeremy.
“Maybe. Grab the phone would you please?”