Traces of Our Past: Engaging Students in History and Archaeology

Humans always leave behind traces of themselves. Analyzing the things people forget or discard and the things they preserve for others, archaeologists recover the stories of those who came before. Digging in the dirt is a part of archaeological research. But it is only one part of a much larger process. The process begins long before a shovel is put to the ground, and it generally begins with a question about how people lived in the past.  To answer that question, the archaeologist must review archival records, historical maps, and oral histories; prepare research plans and seek permit approvals. When one excavates, it is not for things, but to record the entire biological, geographic, and human environment. And when excavation is completed, a long stage of critical analysis and reporting begins.

Our first exploration uses the techniques of artifact analysis to get students to think critically about how we learn about the past.

  1. The visiting archaeologist-educator will introduce the activity with a discussion of how archaeologists use artifacts to learn things that might not be apparent from documents. Students will be introduced to the concept of stratigraphy and discuss the importance of context for  learning about people in the past.
  2. Students will then undertake detailed observation and accurate recording of an artifact. Students will think critically about material culture (artifacts and other stuff people have made) and practice different systems of classification. They will record their observations and hypothesis on a worksheet.
  3. The activity will wrap up with students offering opinions about how and why artifacts are important clues to understanding people in the past.

Explorations Contact: Sherry Robinson

Phone: 941-504-7130



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