Thursday, April 5, 2012

Archaeological Methods for Preschool through 1st grade aged children lesson plan

Activity 1 Story “Digging for Clues”
Activities 2 & 3 split stations: Bones and What Can They Tell Us
Human Skeleton Puzzle
Looking at and Analyzing Bones
Activity 4 Snacks “Digging for Candy”

List of supplies
  • Bones (ex. chicken bones or other type of animal bones, with breaks and/or cuts.) (You will have to break and cut the bones yourself) (one or two bones per student)
  • Clear plastic cups (one per student)
  • Chocolate pudding (1 serving per student)
  • Candy ([M&Ms, gummy worms and Oreo cookies] enough for each student to have a few M&Ms, a gummy worms, and enough cookies to make 1 or 2 layers of cookie per cup.)
  • Spoons (one per student)
  • 2 Human Skeleton Puzzles (Large puzzle pieces, enough for 2 small puzzles for 3-5 students per puzzle)
  • Book Digging for Clues by Kate Duke

Why and How Archaeologists Dig
Archaeology is a subdiscipline of Anthropology, the study of humans. Archaeologists study ancient human cultures by digging up and analyzing items that they left behind. In a way, archaeology is similar to detective work; archaeologists must find and analyze clues to piece together the story of the past.
Archaeologists are motivated to excavate sites for several reasons. First, they want to discover what happened, and perhaps even determine why and how it happened. Studying the past can help us understand a variety of things, including the effects of environmental disasters and resource depletion on cultures. Like history, studying the ancient past can help us avoid previous mistakes as well as understand how our own culture developed. Archaeologists also want to understand ancient people: what their beliefs were, what was important to them, and why and how they did things. Finally, many archaeological excavations are conducted for preservation purposes. Oftentimes a site will be discovered because someone wants to build a road or building; in this case, the site is excavated before it can be destroyed. It is also important to protect sites from potential looters who are searching for valuables and will not be concerned with preserving the site.
Preservation is a key goal of archaeology. Excavation destroys archaeological sites; once the dirt has been mixed up and artifacts moved, the context of the artifacts is lost. Therefore, archaeologists are careful to preserve at least part of a site during an excavation. When new technology is developed it may uncover new things at the site and revolutionize our understanding of the past. However, if the site has already been completely excavated the context is lost and the information gathered is useless. When excavating a site, archaeologists use a variety of techniques that aim to preserve the site as well as the artifacts and features found at the site.
Because preservation is so important, archaeology is becoming more technology-oriented. Aerial photos, infrared aerial photos, satellite images, magnetometers, ground penetrating radar (GPR), sonar, and more are all useful methods. They can be used to locate a potential site, or they can be used to get an overall idea of what the site looks like without compromising the site by digging. However, obtaining actual artifacts is important too. For heavy-duty digging archaeologists use things like gas-powered augers and bobcats, but these are more likely to cause damage to the site. On a smaller scale, archaeologists typically construct a grid. Sectioning off the site into equal squares make it less likely that you will miss something and it also makes it easy to map the site. Accurate mapping is critical because the context of artifacts and features can tell archaeologists a lot about the site. For more precise digging archaeologists may use a trowel or a small shovel. Because many artifacts are actually really tiny pieces of flint or chips of pottery or stone tools, filtering is also important. Separation methods include (but are not limited to) screening (dry or wet) and soil flotation. Dry screening is the sieving of soil through a screen, which filters out small artifacts from the dirt. Wet screening works in a similar manner, but in this case archaeologists use water pressure to force the soil through the screen. Floatation is another technique that involves water; soil is placed in water, and any organic material present in the sample floats while heavier, inorganic soil sinks to the bottom. Floatation is an especially useful method for separating plant materials.
Archaeologists can learn many things about ancient societies from dig sites, but they must be very careful not to destroy the site. They must be patient when digging and keep careful records of where everything is found. In addition, they must bag and label all artifacts and soil samples. The majority of archaeological work is actually done in a lab, analyzing all of the data collected from the site. Context is essential for accurate interpretations of the site, so labeling and mapping are critical. If the site is excavated properly, archaeologists can learn a great deal about the past.

References Cited:
"Archaeology Wordsmith." Archaeology Wordsmith. Web. 03 Apr. 2012. <>.

Pyburn, Anne. "Introduction to Archaeology: What Is Archaeology?" Indiana University. Web. 08 Mar. 2012. .

Estimated Time: 15-20 minutes

Materials Required:

  • Book: Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke

This book is about three kids who help their archaeologist friend Sophie on a dig site. They uncover an Archaic Era site in a cornfield, and learn all about the many prehistoric artifacts and features that they find. The book also discusses methods for digging a site and stresses the importance of keeping records. On the negative side it is a bit long and there is a lot of information, so I would probably not recommend this book for children under preschool age- It will be challenging for even preschoolers to follow completely. In addition, it does perpetuate a few stereotypes; for instance, the little girl is concerned about getting her shoes dirty. But, overall it gives a very good overview of what archaeology is and what working on a dig is like.


1. Read the book to the children. If the kids are getting restless, you can shorten the book by skipping over some of the terms and side-bubbles in the book.

State-mandated Learning Objectives
1. Historical Thinking Skills:

a. Historians generally construct chronological narratives to characterize eras and explain past events and change over time.

b. Historical inquiry is a process in which multiple sources and different kinds of historical evidence are analyzed to draw conclusions about how and why things happened in the past.

Bones and What They Can Tell Us

The analysis of ancient bones is an important part of Archaeology. The class will be introduced to not only to how human bones orient in the body, but also to very basic knowledge about the many different things people can learn from bones. Some of the things that bones can tell are cause of death, previous injuries, diseases, age, sex, stature, etc. Although children do not need to understand specifics about any of these processes, they should understand in general what specific bones, features, and anomalies look like. However it is helpful for the teacher to know a little more in depth knowledge about these things in case a child wants more specific answers, and so that they can understand better what they are being taught.

The lesson should start with the kids putting together the human skeleton puzzle. This is a fun way to introduce them to the topic, while at the same time teaching them how bones are oriented in the body. Archaeologists must understand the structure of a human skeleton in order to identify human remains from archaeological digs. For this activity, all that really needs to be known is a basic understanding of the human skeleton. Most adults would probably recognize a human skeleton when it is fully oriented, as well as be able to identify (at least in basic terms) what certain bones are. Here are two pictures of skeletons with some of the main bones listed, to help when explaining bones to a child.

As far as for the analysis section of this topic, these ideas are much more complex to understand, but can still be explained very easily to children if simple language, that they will be able to understand, is used. The main indicators can be used when explaining to children how anthropologists are able to know how old someone is, or what gender they are, just from looking at bones.

For example, for sex identification, one could point to the pelvis and just simply tell the child that women have a wider pelvis than men, here is a picture of three traits someone can look for on a pelvis to determine the difference between a male and females pelvis.

One could also point to the skull, and if able compare between a male and female, show the children how the male's skull is usually much larger and has larger features than a female’s skull has. Here is a chart showing some basic differences between male and female skulls.

Even though there is much more analysis that goes into this, explaining the differences in this way will still be accurate (even if not fully in depth) and the children will still be able to understand and see the differences.

As far as age goes, one could show the children cranial sutures, and tell them that over time these lines disappear, and depending on how much they have faded, one can determine how old that person was. Again, this is a very simplified description, yet still accurate and easily understood.

Here are four pictures showing different stages of cranial suture closures. The first picture is what a normal newborn’s cranial sutures would look like. The second picture is that of a young adult; this is because all of the sutures have closed, but they are all still very deep. The third picture shows an older adult; this is because all of the sutures have closed, and now they are starting the Obliteration (synostosis) process. The fourth picture shows a very old adult skull; we can tell this because all of the sutures have nearly disappeared, and are very late in the Obliteration (synostosis) process.

As far as explaining different injuries, one doesn’t need to go into specific detail on the precise type of break, cut, or other type of injury, but rather just show them the main differences between, for example, a broken bone and a bone that has been cut away.

One may go into a little more detail on some things, like showing the difference between a small puncture, a cut, a projectile injury, or blunt force trauma; each of these looks very different, and so it would be easy to show children the differences between them without the information getting too complex for them.

Talk to the kids about the different information we can learn from bones, and how/where we get that information. Split the kids into two groups- these activities will be run as stations.

Activity 1: Human Skeleton Puzzle
Estimated Time: 15 minutes
Materials Required:

1. Create a puzzle, that once completed will show an accurate, fully articulated, human skeleton

2. Ideally this puzzle would be life-sized, but normal sized puzzles would work fine too

3. This is a simple activity that will help the kids become more familiar with the human skeleton, as well as the very basics of the orientation of bones in the body

Activity 2: Looking at and Analyzing Bones
Materials Required:
  • Chicken, or other type of animal bones, with various different types of anomalies (breaks, cuts, chopping, mutations, etc.)

1. Give each child a bone or two to look at

2. Ask them what they think happened to the bone, and why they think that

3. Also ask them to guess where in the body they think the bone came from (leg, arm, body, etc.)

4. After everyone has shared what they think, tell them the correct answers

5. The goal is to get the kids to understand that a lot of information can be determined from bones

State-mandated Learning Objectives
1. Historical Thinking Skills:

Historical inquiry is a process in which multiple sources and different kinds of historical evidence are analyzed to draw conclusions about how and why things happened in the past.

Excavation/ Snack Time
Digging- See lesson “How and Why Archaeologists Dig”

Stratigraphy is the study of sediment strata, or layers. Over time, natural processes such as mudslides, flooding, and erosion deposit dirt and sand on top of the ground. Layers and layers of sediment pile up on each other over thousands of years. A key principle in stratigraphy is the law of superposition, which states that sediment in the lower layers is older than sediment in upper layers. Due to climatic and geographic changes, sediment types change over time. For instance, if rain increases and a valley is flooded, alluvial sediment will show up on top of the dry sediment that was there before. These changes are visible to archaeologists, allowing them to observe the strata in an archaeological dig. A good example of stratigraphy can be seen in the Grand Canyon; the river has cut a path through the rock, and you can see the different colored stripes up the canyon wall.

When conducting an archaeological dig, archaeologists are very careful to observe which layer of sediment artifacts are found in. Artifacts found in lower layers of sediment must have been buried before the artifacts in the upper layers, and therefore they must be older. This is useful for dating purposes. First, stratigraphy can be used in relative dating. This is not a precise dating technique, but it will tell you how old something is relative to something else. For instance, pottery fragments found in a sediment layer are younger than pottery fragments found in the layer below it. Stratigraphy can also be used in radiometric dating; it can be used to date the rock, and any artifacts associated with that layer of rock must be around the same age. Stratigraphy helps archaeologists establish chronology, which is critical to understanding the evolutionary history of ancient societies.

However, using stratigraphy to construct chronologies is not always a viable option. Sediment layers can be disturbed, either by natural processes (erosion, shifting tectonic plates, etc.) or by animal or human activity (i.e. digging). If the layers become mixed or get out of order, it is difficult to tell which layers and artifacts were deposited first. But, in areas with undisturbed sediment stratigraphy can be a very useful tool for archaeologists.


Once everyone has been to both stations, bring the kids back together for a snack and a lesson in digging a site.

Estimated Time: 15 minutes
Materials Required:
  • Dirt and worms dessert

o Chocolate pudding

o Oreo cookies (crushed)

o Gummy worms

  • M&Ms (or other small candy)
  • Spoons
  • Clear plastic cups


1. Give each child their own dirt and worms cup with some M&Ms inside

a. To make the dessert, mix the chocolate pudding with the M&Ms. Then, place the Oreos in a Ziploc bag and crush them, and sprinkle the crumbs on top of the pudding- try to create 2-3 layers of Oreo crumbs within the pudding. The clear cups will allow the children to observe the stratigraphy. Finally, place a gummy worm on top.

Your dirt and worms should look something like this.

2. Have the children “excavate” their dirt and worms with the spoon, removing one “layer” at a time- they should uncover all of the M&Ms, which they can eat when they are all done

a. Emphasize small scoops, don’t take out big chunks at a time- try to take out the M&M with very little/no pudding on the spoon

State-mandated Learning Objectives

1. Geospatial skills:

Describe spatial information

2. Historical Thinking skills:

Understand that historians construct chronological narratives to characterize eras and explain past events and change over time.

1. Ask the kids why do archaeologists dig?
  • learn about the past
2. What they should do if they find archaeological materials?
  • preserve artifacts and their context- if you find something you should tell an adult/archaeologist.
3. What can we learn from bones?

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