By David Davis
Level: Middle school
This series of lessons is meant to introduce students to the discipline of archaeology as an inexact science which tries to learn about the past from man-made remains and about the present from its refuse. The idea of an incomplete picture or puzzle should be emphasized and also the necessity of making deductions and educated guesses that may eventually prove inaccurate to some degree as more knowledge about past cultures is discovered. Archaeology represents only one of the means man uses to study his world. It is a field that naturally facilitates creative ideas and cooperative learning.
Archaeology is a growing field because of a high level of interest currently in the subject and because of laws that prevent construction projects from destroying an accidentally discovered site until studied or evaluated by an archaeologist. The prevalent philosophy in archaeology today, however, is to leave sites alone that are not threatened because of the possibility of better technology in the future that could be used for study. But this rule of thought has not been applied to more historically significant sites such as at Jamestown or Jefferson's summer home Poplar Forest.
The use of archaeology in studying the present is in its infancy and sometimes is called garbology. What is learned about our own culture can be helpful in evaluating the need for change. This unit is designed to introduce the student to some of the basic ideas and methods used in archaeology. The steps of archaeological study include asking questions, doing research to refine the questions, surveying an area for possible sites, test digs, excavation using a carefully measured grid pattern, sifting for artifacts, collecting artifacts and identifying archaeological features in the soil, lab analysis and dating of artifacts, interpretation of features and artifacts, historical research and investigation for better understanding, reporting and publishing, preservation of artifacts and curation in historical museums or collections.
The student will:
learn names of different disciplines of study in science and history with an understanding of root and suffix meanings.
use a dictionary and printed and computerized encyclopedias to gather information and prepare a written and oral report.
compare and contrast archaeology with other fields of science and history.
understand the steps involved in archaeological study.
make analytical conclusions about their own society based on the use of garbology, a new branch of archaeology. The student will appreciate the role of archaeological study and discovery in contributing to historical knowledge.
understand the importance of dating artifacts.
understand the terms "artifact" and "stratigraphy".
discover the process used by archaeologists to uncover historical facts by doing a model archaeological dig of their own.
examine ethical issues involved in archaeology.
meet various SOL objectives in the process of participating in the unit activities.
make inferences and predictions based on prior knowledge, events, and evidence.
Standards of Learning:
Social Studies: 4.5, 4.6, 5.1, 6.7, 6.9, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 8.8, 8.10
English: 5.1, 5.3, 5.4 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, 5.8, 6.1, 6.3, 6.6, 6.8, 6.9
Science: 5.1, 6.1, 6.2, 6.9
Computer Technology: C/T 5.2, 5.3, 5.4
1 to 3 weeks according to how many of the activities are used and the time allowed for independent investigation and correlated activities such as reading writing, etc.
Library books, magazines, videos, posters, etc. related to archaeology for display (specific titles are suggested in one of the activities)
paper and pencil
computers with Internet capability and encyclopedia databases
a cassette tape player or record player and the soundtrack to "Raiders of the Lost Ark"
Harcourt and Brace reading series Treasury of Literature, 6th grade level, 1995 edition (or others with stories involving archaeology)
mudboxes made from cardboard boxes, wooden crates, or plastic containers, approximately 2' x 3' by 4' with planted "artifacts"
toothbrushes (1 per student)
butter knives (1 per group with school permission)
sifter (1 per group)
samples of real artifacts or antiques if available, or else reproductions, photographs, or drawings of various artifacts
Educational television series "Voyage of the Mimi II"
sanitary trash samples
prepared handouts to go with various activities
chalkboard and poster board
Introduce students to several new words including archaeology with the use of the following "Science Rap" which can be chanted to a two beat rhythm or simply read as a poem. Then model how to use structural analysis with a chart including columns for words, word-part clues, sentences with context clues, and definitions. The dictionary will be the primary source of information and students can work in groups.
Science has a lot of names that may sound weird to say
but practice memorizing
You'll have fun along the way.
Have you heard about the words that end in
They may be long and hard to say
but come on - give a try!
Words like archaeology, biology,
geology, and... entomology!
Words like meteorology - and another - paleontology
- and don't forget zoology
How can you help but impress
all the friends you know
by pronouncing words so long
they stretch from head to toe
Now they're others you can learn you see
Chemistry, and botany
Physics, optics and genetics
And for all you true fanatics
- don't forget thermodynamics!
-And if you lose your concentration
It's no sticky situation
You can always think of one more
like sociology, psychology
or even believe it or not
ich, ich, ich, ichthyology
You don't believe me? Look it up!
You don't believe me? Look it up!
You don't believe me? Look it up!
Look it up!
All the terms mentioned in the "rap" should be explored and students may compete in thinking of others as they work and add these to their list. A teacher-prepared list of mismatched terms and definitions might also be used. Students interested in a particular topic such as birds or mountains, etc., could look up the topic to discover the technical name for the study of that topic.
Begin the unit in archaeology with a display of books, newspaper clippings, magazines, videos, computer programs or games, posters, and samples of artifacts if possible. Introduce the class to the steps involved in archaeological study and career opportunities available. Try to arrange to play the theme from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" as you display a photograph or poster of Indiana Jones and contrast this concept of archaeologists with a realistic one. Have students brainstorm some questions they might ask an archaeologist and arrange for the president of the local archaeological society or a regional archaeologist to come and speak to the class. Have students investigate by talking to their parents and others in the community what local "history mysteries" might be answered only by an archaeological dig such as: "Did a fort of the French and Indian War that once existed in the area have a rectangular palisade or any palisade at all? How large was it? What was the life of the prehistoric people in the area like? Did the local town once have electric streetcars or is this a myth?, etc."
The following are suggested titles for your book display:
Biblical Archaeology Review
Adkins, Lesley & Roy, An Introduction to Archaeology. Shooting Star Press, Inc., NY., 1996.
Brownstone, Douglas L., A Field Guide to America's History. Facts on File, Inc., NY., 1984.
Cameron, Blythe, Careers for History Buffs and Others Who Learn from the Past. Oxford University Press, NY., 1994.
Cooper, Kay, Who Put the Cannon in the Courthouse Square? Walker & Co., NY., 1985.
Costecalde, Dr. Claude-Bernard, Editor, The DK Illustrated Family Bible. DK Publishers, Inc., NY., 1994.
Egloff, Keith and Woodward, Deborah, First People: The Early Indians of Virginia. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1992.
MacCord, Howard, Sr., "Wolf Creek Indian Village" Archaeological Society of VA, Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 4, 1971.
McIntosh, Jane, The Practical Archaeologist. Facts on File, Inc., NY., 1986.
Moloney, Norah, The Young Oxford Book of Archaeology. Oxford University Press, NY., 1995.
Samford, Patricia and Ribblett, David L., Archaeology for Young Explorers: Uncovering History at Colonial Williamsburg. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1995.
Books for Teachers:
Guide for Virginia Teachers. Archaeological Society of Virginia, Richmond.
Egloff, Keith and Woodward, Deborah, First People: The Early Indians of Virginia. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1992.
Slusser, M. Catherine, and others, Teacher's Guide: Virginia Archaeology. Department of Historic Resources, Richmond, 1995.
Computer Online Resources:
Archaeology Magazine Online
ArchNet: Virtual Library of Archaeology
Atlas of Virginia Archaeology
Introduce the class to an understanding of the meaning of artifacts and stratigraphy by reading orally to the class one of the following books:
Home Place by Crescent Dragonweed, 1990, MacMillan Publishing Co., NY.
Old Home Day by Donald Hall, 1996, Browndeer Press, Harcourt Brace & Co., NY.
A Street Through Time by Dr. Anne Millard, 1998, DK Publishing, Inc., NY.
Follow up with a discussion of the importance of artifacts by arranging ahead of time for each student to bring an object to class that is from home (a photograph or drawing will do) and that has particular meaning or historical value to the student or his family. It might be a souvenir of a special trip or a handmade toy, etc. Allow each student to explain the significance of their object. Have the students try a creative writing assignment in which an artifact tells its own history - how it was made, used, broken, discarded, and found - and the owners or other people it has encountered. Allow students to share their creative stories with the class. Emphasize the concept that every artifact has a story to tell archaeologists if they can read it correctly. Ask the class if an archaeologist would be able to discover a special meaning an object might have to someone. What kind of things would archaeologists never know? How can the historical written record and now audio-visual records complete the picture?
Give the students a list of ancient cultures or civilizations that have been studied by archaeologists. Discuss some major archaeological discoveries with the class and have each student construct a time-line of these major events including the discovery of Pompeii, the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, the excavation of Ninevah, the discovery of ancient Troy, the excavation of Knossos in Crete, the discovery of King Tut's tomb, the discovery of prehistoric wall paintings in Spain and France, the identification of Folsom flint points in New Mexico, the discovery of the royal cemetery of ancient Ur in Iraq, the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon treasure ship, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the excavation of ancient Jericho, the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, the discovery of the James Fort palisade in Jamestown, the discovery of a life-size army of terracotta soldiers in a Chinese tomb, the discovery of desert mummies in Egypt, and the discovery of the Titanic. Ask students how the discovery of the Titanic differs from other archaeological finds. Have students do an investigation in small groups of an ancient culture in which they are interested and make a chart with three columns:
What I know
What I want to know
What I learned.
Suggest they choose from the following:
China's Shang Dynasty
Mound Builders in America
European Middle Ages
Allow students several days to investigate their topic. Encourage an art project or work as part of their oral and written report to the class. Students should use printed and computerized encyclopedia or data bases for their main source of information but should be encouraged to explore other resources available on the Internet Make use of any story in your reading series that correlates to this unit. If you use the 1995 Harcourt & Brace 6th grade Treasury of Literature textbook, use the following stories during the unit: Behind the Sealed Door by Irene & Laurence Swimburne (an excerpt of the ALA Notable Book); "Make Like a Tree and Leave" by Paula Donziger; and The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline (also an excerpt of an ALA Notable book). Build a vocabulary and spelling list based on words encountered in the archaeology unit.
Discuss relative and absolute dating techniques used in archaeology including the 3-Age System, stratigraphy, typology, fossil dating, pollen dating, deep sea cores, manmade calendars and records, tree ring dating, radioactive dating, carbon-14 dating, potassium-argon dating and thermoluminescence.
Prepare a game similar to the "Jeopardy" format with categories of artifacts or antiques. If real or reproduction artifacts or antiques are unavailable, use pictures or drawings. Put objects of different time periods in groups with some common characteristics and assign category names accordingly such as Mothers Used It, Just For Fun, For Men Only, From the War, Written on Paper, Made of Metal, It's Blue, The Root of All Evil, etc. Prepare a handout sheet ahead of time for each student listing all categories and multiple choice dates. Have students take turns guessing the date of the item they choose from the category they choose until the correct guess is given. Do not leave a category until all those items have been correctly dated. If a student chooses the correct matching date, they get another turn until they miss the correct date. Boys might compete with girls. Choose objects that will have an association with a particular time period in U.S. history. If students have a particular interest such as cars, or music, you could design a category centered on that topic.
After the game have students choose a particular decade of U.S. history such as the 1920s or 1940s and prepare a list of items to put in a time capsule to represent that decade for future generations. They may use their social studies books in 5th or 6th grade for ideas and should include any items used in the game that match their decade. Allow students to share their list and see if other groups can guess their decade without being told. Items included might be sports items, music items, fashion items, high-tech items, and household items.
Finally, have students cooperatively design a time capsule for their own time period by which future generations would get a good sample of life today.
This activity should be done outside if possible. Prepare before class cardboard, wooden, or plastic containers called mudboxes which you have planted with "artifacts" which correspond to a certain place such as a bedroom (record, toy car, slipper); kitchen (spoon, saucer, measuring cup); church (cross, Sunday school attendance pin, candle); bathroom (hand mirror, comb, toothbrush); and school (chalk, ruler, scissors). Allow the mudboxes to dry and have the students, divided in groups, to excavate with butterknives and toothbrushes the artifacts, being careful not to damage them. After 5 to 10 minutes of digging, tell the groups to start discussing the possibilities for what room or building their artifacts might come from. After 20 minutes, bring the class back inside. Choose a spokesperson from each group to show and tell what they found, where they think their artifacts came from, and why. Have a teacher-directed class discussion for closure. Ask the following questions:
What do you think about the process you used to uncover the artifacts?
How difficult was it to determine where the artifacts were from?
What problems do you think exist in trying to learn the history of a whole civilization using this process?
Do you think you could or would want to be an archaeologist? Why or why not?
Review the term "stratigraphy." Then have students draw on a piece of art paper four wide layers of soil with grass, flowers, plants, houses, or other objects drawn on top of the highest layer to indicate the surface of the ground. Have students label the first layer 1901-2000 (20th century); the second layer 1801-1900 (19th century); 1701-1800 (18th century); and the fourth and deepest layer 1601-1700 (17th century). Tell students the following artifacts were found in the groups they are in. Ask students to match the groups of artifacts to the correct layer and century and then add them to their drawing. Group 1 consists of bullets, bayonets tin cups, and a canteen with CSA on it; Group 2 is composed of a brick foundation, water pipe, and electric cable; Group 3 includes arrowheads, chipped stones and rocks arranged in circles; Group 4 has an iron key, horseshoes, old handmade nails, and charcoal. Discuss what items helped give the answer away and which items could have possibly appeared in more than one layer.
Introduce the students to the idea of mending and classifying artifacts by using the following activities: Before class copy on a piece of paper a plate with a particular design and make several photocopies. Cut the "plate" into six or seven pieces with scissors, and remove 2 of the pieces as lost from each set of pieces. Divide the class into groups to try and reassemble the plates. Ask students: How important is the design in putting the pieces together? What if the pieces were three dimensional like real artifacts - would that help? Glue the pieces you've fitted together onto a white sheet of art paper. Can you fill in the missing design if it's a repeating pattern? Groups should compare their results.
Next, have students to cooperatively list ways to classify artifacts into categories by particular characteristics such as size, shape, color, function or purpose, material, age, weight, or special features. See how many they can come up with. Bring several pieces of pottery to class or some other object that might be found in the ground like old nails and have the students reevaluate their list. Discuss the following questions: Which characteristics are important? Which are not? How important would exactly where the object was found be in determining its origin or importance?
Introduce students to Online Resources on the Internet dealing with artifacts such as: Flowerdew Hundred Museum: Virtual Artifact Collection http://www.flowerdew.org/ or APVA Jamestown Rediscovery: Online mini-exhibits http://www.apva.org/.
If possible, view the educational video series Voyage of the Mimi II. Explain to the class a hypothetical case in which members of a local archaeological society who have given numerous educational programs for schools have just been arrested for digging up human remains and artifacts from a prehistoric Indian burial site without a proper license. Have students role-play the defendants being questioned on the stand in court by a lawyer or judge. Call in the following for testimony and opinions about the case: a police officer, an antique dealer specializing in Indian artifacts, a fellow archaeological society member who did not participate in the illegal dig, a grave robber who has just gotten out of prison after serving 2 years behind bars, an Indian rights activist who is a member of the Cherokee tribe, a museum director at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, a professional archaeologist who has spent years in excavation projects and a school official of one of the schools where the accused men have previously given programs. How were the motives and opinions of the witnesses different? Who recommended the harshest penalty? Why should archaeological sites be protected from being robbed of artifacts? Why does the law deal with the disturbance of human remains in a more serious way than other artifacts? When should human remains be studied?
Begin an ongoing class project of collecting any newspaper or magazine articles on archaeology for a classroom scrapbook. Students should share the article with the class for extra credit. An article might deal with anything from the latest exciting find to a case of police calling in archaeologists to help solve a murder case or an incident of NASA technology and instruments being used to help locate a Civil War mass burial site as recently occurred in Saltville, Virginia. The scrapbook could eventually be presented to the school library for future reference.
Divide the class into groups to examine a sample of modern "artifacts" or trash gathered from a public place such as the schoolground, another classroom, or a ballpark. Unless rubber gloves are used it would be appropriate to purchase new sanitary samples of the trash items for students to examine. Or you may write up a description and list of information about several items for students to use in answering a set of questions. A sample of items that might be examined are:
a brand name Styrofoam coffee cup
a Snickers candy bar wrapper
a plastic straw
a piece of machine cut wood
a broken pencil
a cigarette butt
a bottle cap
a plastic bread tie
a Wrigley's chewing gum wrapper
a metal screw
a piece of roofing slate
a plastic coated copper wire
a plastic lid
a plastic button
a piece of broken glass
an empty page torn from a small photo album
a broken plastic and metal part from an unidentified machine
a Kit Kat wrapper
a Books-a-Million plastic bag with sales ticket
a packet of mild sauce from Taco Bell
a triangular cut piece of copper with no corrosion
a 1972 penny
Obviously the list is endless as well as the learning possibilities and related topics. Have students measure and describe the artifacts carefully in as many ways as possible and then draw a picture of how it might have been used. Have them make as many conclusions and deductions about the society that produced the objects as possible as if they are archaeologists 300 years in the future looking back at our time period. Which objects would not survive in the ground 300 years?
Group artifacts by their function or the material of which they are made. Think of other means of grouping. Which items are datable by information printed on them? Center in on one artifact such as the penny and examine it more closely to learn everything possible about our society from that one object. What motto of the society does it contain? What history does it reveal? Would there be any way to identify the man's image on the coin without prior historical knowledge of the 19th and 20th centuries? Could additional research help? Do archaeologists normally do this kind of research? Allow groups to share their conclusions and results. Some issues worth debating that may arise include whether "newer" is always "better", whether the people represented ate a healthy diet, or how they spent their money, or what materials were objects made of most often, or how bad was the problem of littering? This activity is very adaptable and open-ended for your own purposes of instruction.
As a culminating activity take a field trip to a local or regional museum that houses a good collection of artifacts from different periods of American history. Prepare ahead of time a list of questions for students to answer as they tour the museum, and discuss after the trip. Suggestions for Southwest Virginia include:
Crab Orchard Museum in Tazewell County
The Harmon Museum in Carroll County
The Mathews Museum in the city of Galax
The Museum of Southwestern Virginia in Big Stone Gap
The Wolf Creek Indian Museum in Bland County
The Rock House and Boyd Museum in Wytheville
The Wilderness Road Museum in Pulaski County
The Andrew Johnson House and Museum in Pearisburg
Center in the Square Museum in Roanoke
George C. Marshall Museum, VMI Museum and Lee Chapel Museum in Lexington
Smithfield Plantation in Blacksburg