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DHS students’ archeology study nets $1,000

by Merrie Leininger

A $1,000 prize was the reward for months of work by Douglas High School students and teachers who participated in an archaeology project held through the Nevada Science Teacher Enhancement Project.

Social studies teachers Hal Starratt and Karen Heine took seniors Bonnie Lee and Andy Johnson and juniors Cicely Williams and Chad Cooper to the Desert Research Institute’s archaeological dig in the Zion National Park in June.

For three weeks, the team lived and worked with 30 people at the site of an ancient village erected between 800 A.D. and 1200 A.D. by the Anasazi people along the Virgin River. They slept in tents and made their meals in a mess tent, but lived without showers or bathrooms.

Last weekend, the group presented their findings at an academic conference of the association in Las Vegas and were named the first-place winners out of 12 schools that participated in research projects last summer.

The DHS group worked since returning from Arizona preparing graphs and maps and an oral presentation describing their work.

The students uncovered pottery shards from many different sites during their stay. The group gathered materials the Anasazi used to make pottery and brought it home, where they fired pottery squares using many different “recipes.”

The students then documented what weight the shares broke at and what materials constituted each shard. The students made shards using sand or Olivine as a thickening agent. Olivine is a greenish mineral the students found in the Anazasi pottery. It is unique to an area about 60 miles south of the dig site.

“The middle amounts of Olivine made it a little more predictable to count on the strength. We decided they probably knew this and looked at old shards and found we were right, they used about 20 to 30 percent,” Starratt said.

In his presentation, student Chad Cooper showed many different Anazasi sites along the Virgin River shared five types of pottery, revealing the possibility of trade among the groups, or even that some groups were related.

Heine said the group’s work was more complete than the 12 other schools that presented papers at the NSTEP conference.

“It really shows the kids put in a lot of work and effort. It was a lot more work than we thought it would be in the beginning,” she said. “The other groups were all quite good, but (their presentations) didn’t have the substance. I would have liked to see more results and connections to the significance now.”

Starratt, who is in the last semester of his Ph.D. work in archeology at the University of Nevada, Reno, found out about NSTEP, which pairs high school classroom teachers with scientists in the field, from former DHS principal Bev Jeans.

Starratt said the group is still deciding what to do with the $1,000 prize. An extracurricular archeology program is a possibility, he said.

“It’s possible we could have a club that would do local projects if we get a permit to do sites here in Douglas County. There is a lot of archeology projects around here,” he said. He said he hasn’t decided if he will apply to do the project this summer.