Sutton, 47, an archaeologist, was a Memphis, Tenn., factory manager who grew tired of the flat horizon of commerce and manufacturing and of laying off fellow employees.
So he quit to pursue his hobby: hunting for fossils and Stone Age tools. He went back to college to study archaeology and later moved to South Africa, where he is a postdoctoral researcher with the Institute for Human Evolution at Witwatersrand University.
South Africa is a mecca for archaeologists; its fossils cover an unbroken sweep of prehistoric time, from the first smudge of life through the dinosaur era to early hominids and beyond. Some of the world’s most significant fossils were discovered here: the Taung child, Little Foot and, in April, a young male hominid, believed to be a new species, Australopithecus sediba, whose remains appear to be nearly 2 million years old.
“You can look at the latest forms of life and the first evidence of life and all the way through the dinosaurs, all the way through the first emergence of hominids and our ancestors, right through to today. There’s nowhere else in the world where you can find that,” says Andrea Leenen, head of the Paleontological Scientific Trust, a South Africa not-for-profit organization that sponsors paleontological research.