Native American Cultures HomeScholastic Explorers
Native American Cultures HomeEarthwatch
   

Karl Laumbach, archaeologist and co-leader of Earthwatch "Prehistoric Pueblos" project


Dennis O'Toole, historian and co-leader of Earthwatch "Prehistoric Pueblos" project

 
   

Karl Laumbach and Dennis O'Toole have been our leaders for this project. I asked them how they got interested in archaeology, and what keeps them hooked.

Karl explained that he was raised on a ranch in New Mexico and was fascinated with the history around him from an early age. "I grew up hearing stories such as how great-grandfather Casimiro Andrada was captured by the Apache in Sonora only to escape many years later." Karl's German ancestors had arrived in New Mexico about 1860 and intermarried with Hispanic families. His ranch had been the hunting grounds of Plains Indians, who left their camps strewn with arrowheads and other artifacts. A branch of the Santa Fe Trail crossed within a quarter mile of his house, where he would find an occasional cartridge or ceramic doll's arm.

Karl says, "What I like most about the work is that it lets me get close to the past. It gives me a sense of what it might have been like, both in good times and in bad. The people who have preceded us loved and laughed, hated and fought, ate well and starved, lived vigorous and often tragic lives. Archaeology usually only gives us the broad outlines of their struggle to survive, but once in a while you find something that brings you very close to them and it never ceases to send a thrill through me."

For Dennis O'Toole, a native of Iowa, figuring out just what people have said and done, especially what they said and did in the distant past, and why they did things that way, have always seemed to him the most important mysteries to solve. "That's what historians do, and that's what archaeologists do as well."

O'Toole recently founded the Cañada Alamosa Institute, an organization devoted to learning about and teaching others about the people who have lived along the Rio Alamosa. What he likes best about his work is teaming up with professionals and volunteers to uncover things in the ground that are the only traces of the past by which we can learn about the people who have long since passed from the scene.

Credits: Courtesy of Shayne Russell