Fossil Hunting in Hungary: Watermelon Field-Sangria

by Darcy Shapiro

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Paleontology is thirsty work.

On a dig, you can spend nine hours a day sitting in one square meter of dirt, painstakingly excavating delicate fossils with dental picks and paintbrushes. You feel the sun beating down on the back of your neck; you try not to let the sweat drip into your eyes.

Hours later, when you finally make it out of the dirt and back to the lab, those same fossils literally suck the moisture out of your hands as you try to piece them together. They’re like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that has lost half of its pieces and gained new ones from a different box.  

All you want at the end of the day is something cold to drink.

I’ve spent part of two summers in Rudabánya, a small town in northeastern Hungary, excavating a 10-million-year-old paleoanthropological site- in other words, a site that preserves fossil evidence relevant to human evolution.  

The site contains the skeletal remains of many different animals, including horses, rhinoceros, and deer, but is famous for its two primates, Rudapithecus hungaricus (a tree-dwelling ape with males the size of small chimpanzees) and Anapithecus hernyaki (an enigmatic primate in the same group as Old World monkeys and apes, whose relationship to living species is still unknown).


The first summer, our fruit allotment was one meager piece per day – usually something like half a banana.But this past summer, we ended up with more watermelon than we knew what to do with; enough to leave our dinner plates piled high with rinds and still have wedges lingering in the serving bowl.

Faced with a surfeit of leftover watermelon, a whole one still in the fridge, and our time in Rudabánya coming to an end in two days, the field crew and I knew we had to get creative.

No one wanted to keep eating the watermelon – we would drink it instead.

Hungarian Watermelon Field-Sangria:

1) Pile chunks of watermelon into a colander (the very same one we use to sort site sediment into micro (small) and macro (large) fractions), and enthusiastically smash it through the holes with a plastic cup.

2) Acquire alcohol to mix with the watermelon juice. In our case, half a bottle of rosé, a full bottle of something white, and a Soproni Citrom (Hungarian lemon shandy).

3) Fill a two liter pitcher approximately half-full with watermelon juice. Add the rosé, half of the white wine, and the (half-liter, the Hungarians are not messing around) can of Soproni Citrom. Mix.

4) Enjoy immediately over ice or let sit in the fridge overnight for a more pronounced watermelon flavor.

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Darcy Shapiro is a PhD candidate in Evolutionary Anthropology at Rutgers University, studying the functional anatomy of the pelvis and working on reconstructing locomotion in fossil primates. She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @darcy_shapiro.

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