In 1951, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the Harvard Peabody Museum, Laurence and Lorna Marshall and their two children, Elizabeth and John, set out to find the Bushmen who lived by gathering wild bush foods and hunting game with poison arrows in the Kalahari Desert. Their aim was to study and document their life and culture. After a week of hard traveling in desert-adapted vehicles, the Marshalls reached Nyae Nyae and made contact with ≠Oma Tsamkxao and his Ju/'hoan band at a waterhole called /Aotcha. Without any formal training in anthropology, the Marshalls would spend almost five years, between 1951 and 1962, with ≠Oma and his family studying and filming the Ju/'hoan way of life in Nyae Nyae. Experts from several disciplines including archaeology, linguistics, and ethno-botany participated in the expeditions.
While in Nyae Nyae the Marshall family documented everyday life as well as unusual events and activities, producing a massive body of work that continues to define the fields of anthropology and ethnographic filmmaking today. Laurence shot many of the still photographs documenting the expedition. Lorna produced a number of articles and wrote The Ju/'hoan of Nyae Nyae which is a basic ethnography of Ju/'hoan society. Elizabeth wrote her popular book The Harmless People.
In 1984 John Marshall granted the Human Studies Film Archive at the Smithsonian Institution stewardship of more than 500,000 feet of original 16mm film shot in southern Africa during the 1950s and in 1978. In 2001 the Harvard Peabody Museum acquired the Marshall photographic collection for preservation and distribution purposes.