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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 American cultures?
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 years ago!

When you find your artifacts, do you know which tribe they were from?
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 is?
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 a dig?
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 it.

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 cultures?
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 Puebloans.

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 ago.

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 to find?
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 the pottery?
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!