Shayne Russell, Library Media Specialist and Earthwatch Volunteer,
was interviewed by students and teachers on Scholastic.com.
What was it like helping archaeologists learn about Native
Shayne: It was like being in school, except that we were
outside and we were able to ask the archaeologist, Karl Laumbach,
how archaeologists do their research. And then, we actually got
to help do it, so we learned a lot!
What was your favorite part of your trip?
Shayne: Working with the other volunteers, and actually digging
at the site and finding artifacts. It was kind of like a treasure
hunt, because you never knew what you were going to find.
How does it feel to find old pottery in New Mexico?
Shayne: The pottery was one of my favorite artifacts because
there were so many different styles and designs. It's pretty amazing
to be able to hold something in your hand that was made maybe 1,000
When you find your artifacts, do you know which tribe they
Shayne: That's one of the things that the archaeologists
are trying to learn. With pottery, you can tell where it came from
by the design and the color. And that is one of the ways archaeologists
know where things came from.
If they don't find charcoal, how do they know how old something
Shayne: There are a lot of things they look for. We found
an old wooden post in one room, and it may be possible to get a
tree ring date from that. Scientists can tell how old wood is by
looking at the rings in the wood. The designs on pottery indicate
when it was made, and the size and shape of an arrowhead helps us
know how old it is.
What is the most interesting thing you've uncovered during
Shayne: I participated in another Earthwatch dig that was
in Arizona. The very last day we were there, we dug up a whole pot.
It was still in one piece and it was beautiful. That's really rare
to find a whole piece. We were very lucky.
What do you do with the artifacts afterwards?
Shayne: They're taken back to a lab. We wash each one with
a toothbrush, and then they're catalogued. So even years from now,
the archaeologists will know exactly where they were found. Each
piece can then be studied further to see what we can learn from
How deep do archaeologists dig before they find a clue?
Shayne: That depends on the area they're digging in. For
instance, if it's a place where water has washed in a lot of soil,
they may have to dig very deep. At this site, the deepest pit we
dug was probably about 100 centimeters. And that's where the floor
of the room was.
What's it like living in the desert while you're on a dig?
Shayne: At this dig, it was pretty comfortable. We had nice
big tents, and we slept on cots, but it did get pretty cold at night.
When the sun goes down in the desert, it gets cold right away!
Were you afraid of the coyotes at night? Did you see any coyotes?
Shayne: I didn't get to see the coyotes, but I did hear them
on several nights. Actually, I had done an Earthwatch project at
one time that studied coyotes. So, I really like them, and I was
sorry I didn't get to see one.
What did you eat while you were there?
Shayne: We were fed very well. It was kind of funny because
the trees at the ranch had lots of apples, and Mrs. O'Toole, who
cooked for us, came up with an amazing number of apple dishes!
Did you do any research before your trip? What did you use?
Shayne: I work in a school library, so before I left, I read
through some of our books about the Indians of the Southwest and
the archaeologists that we worked with had written some articles,
which I also enjoyed reading. We even had a little library at a
cabin at the site that had a lot of good books on archaeology.
Do you know of any good Web sites for archaeology?
Shayne: There's a lot of information on the Web about archaeology,
but it's hard for me to come up with addresses off the top of my
head. I did notice that the Research Starters section of this Web
site listed a lot of good resources.
What did you find most interesting about the Native American
Shayne: I think some of the questions the archaeologists
are trying to answer is one of the most interesting things. Like,
where did these people come from, and where did they go? Also, the
differences between the different groups in the Southwest, like
the Anasazi and Mogollon.
How are the Mogollon Indians different from the Anasazi?
Shayne: The Mogollon people lived farther south in Arizona.
We're probably most familiar with the Anasazi, who lived in places
like Mesa Verde. Some differences are in architecture; the Anasazi
built round houses, the Mogollon built square houses. And the early
Anasazi made gray pottery, and the early Mogollon made brown. The
Anasazi are best known for their cliff dwellings, and the Mogollon,
or Mimbres, are best known for their beautiful black and white pottery.
Are these people the same Native American people who live in
New Mexico and Arizona today?
Shayne: They're the ancestors of the people who live in New
Mexico and Arizona today. Some archaeologists call them the ancestral
Can you explain your connection to Native American history
and their artifacts?
Shayne: I'm fascinated with the part of the country that
these people lived in. And by the beautiful things that they left
behind. It's interesting to see how archaeologists can piece together
these clues to learn about the lives of people who lived so long
How did you get involved with these expeditions? What was your
favorite expedition and why?
Shayne: I first got involved with Earthwatch when I happened
to pick up their magazine in a bookstore. And I read about a project
where you could go to Yellowstone Park and study coyotes. I knew
I just had to do that! I'd never done anything like that before,
but I enjoyed it so much. I participated in other types of projects
in the years since then. It's hard to say which one was my favorite,
because they're all very different. But this one was definitely
one of the best!
What kind of connection is there between your work as a media
specialist and the explorations you did?
Shayne: The connection is research. Being out in the field
with scientists helps me to understand where all that good information
in our library books came from. I like sharing these experiences
with my classes so they can see that research doesn't happen only
in the library.
Do you like doing research?
Shayne: I've always loved doing research. I like looking
through big piles of books for facts. I like doing experiments,
and I think it's most fun of all when you can do it outside.
What is it like to help kids research?
Shayne: It's very challenging for many reasons. Sometimes
finding what you're looking for is hard work, and you have to have
a lot of patience. Also, today, we have so many resources available
to us, that it's hard for kids to know where to start. But I really
think it's important to help students learn how to do research,
because there is always something we want to know.
How do the archaeologists know where to dig?
Shayne: Archaeology is all about looking for pattern. The
site where we were hasn't been disturbed, so the archaeologists
were able to show us how they could tell where walls once were by
looking at what to most of us would just look like
a pile of rocks. There are also a lot of new technologies available
to archaeologists that can help them see what's under the ground.
What kind of tools did you use in your excavation?
Shayne: Mostly we used trowels, the kind you can buy in a
hardware store. Measuring tapes were important for recording where
things were found. In areas where the ground was really hard, some
of the volunteers had to use pickaxes. But mostly we used tools
that would let us work really carefully without breaking anything.
Did you ever dig up anything valuable that you didn't expect
Shayne: In Arizona, we found a turquoise pendant, which was
pretty exciting. On this dig, one of our groups found a shell pendant
that was very delicate and pretty. And also unusual, because there
are no shells in the desert.
Weren't you afraid that using pickaxes would break some of
Shayne: You always have to be careful, but you would only
use a tool like that in areas where you wouldn't expect to find
a lot of artifacts. Once those groups got closer to the floor of
a room, they'd be using trowels and whisk brooms. The pickaxes were
small hand tools.
Have you ever dug a kiva? What does it feel like in there?
Shayne: A kiva was an underground ceremonial room. I've seen
kivas that were excavated at other sites, but I've never excavated
one. Aztec Monument in New Mexico has a restored kiva that you can
actually go in to get an idea of what it would have looked like
inside. So we know that these were very special rooms.
Have you ever spoken to the people living in the areas where
you dig to get possible histories or traditions of the items?
Shayne: That's an important thing that archaeologists do
it's part of their research process. At this dig, we didn't
have the opportunity to do that, because the site was very remote.
Do you only excavate Native American sites? Or do you do digs
at other sites? Earthwatch has archaeology projects all over
the world. This past summer, my husband and I helped an Earthwatch
archaeologist who was excavating a frontier fort in Virginia. It
was very different working in the forest, as compared to working
in the deserts of the southwest.
Will you, personally, continue your research of Native Americans
now that the dig is over?
Shayne: Yes, this is an area that interests me. I'd like
to have the opportunity to work on other projects like this. I'm
also very interested in Sally Cole's research on Native American
rock art. So I'm planning to read the transcript of next week's
chat with her!
What advice would you give to kids who want to become archeologists?
Shayne: Archaeologists are always happy to have volunteers
to help them with their research. Find out what's going on close
to where you live and get involved! There are a lot of opportunities
to help, and it's a great way to find out if this is something you'd
really like to do for the rest of your life. Make sure you have
a lot of patience the archaeologists on this project will
continue to do research for years and even then, they might not
find all the answers. But it's always interesting and exciting!
Shayne: Thanks, everyone; I was really impressed with how
good the questions were, and I enjoyed answering them!