As a science, archaeology focuses on understanding the many ways people of the past lived. This requires archaeologists to not only be trained in social science, but also use techniques from other fields like the life and physical sciences, earth and environmental sciences, mathematics, and the humanities. Archaeologists use these techniques from other fields, as well as those developed within the field, to more thoroughly interpret and understand the information we record when conducting archaeological investigations. The activities below are designed to help students connect with how people in the past lived and understand how scientists study people who lived hundreds and even thousands of years ago.
Putting it in Perspective
Why is the Past Important? [PDF 96 KB]
This activity will help students begin to discover why we study the past. Adapted from Intrigue of the Past.
Teaching the Concept of the Past [PDF 292 KB]
This series of activities provides an introduction to, and helps students to develop, a concept of the past.
The Draw-an-Archaeologist Test [PDF 836 KB]
This activity, which helps to elicit student misconceptions about archaeology, can be used as a pre-unit activity as well as a concluding activity for an archaeology unit. Developed by Susan Dixon-Renoe.
Context [PDF 78 KB]
This classroom activity uses a game and a discussion to demonstrate the importance of artifacts in context for learning about the past. Adapted from Intrigue of the Past.
Site Formation in Archaeology [PDF 167 KB]
This exercise illustrates the process of how places where people lived become archaeological sites, a process known as site formation. For this activity, students investigate how a Hopi Indian pit house becomes an archaeological sites by examining the sequence of events that took place at the sites over decades. Provided courtesy of George Brauer, Baltimore County Public Schools.
ArchaeologyLand! [PDF 3.1 MB]
This set of hands-on, archaeology and cultural history-based activities is designed for archaeologists to use with the public at archaeology fairs and other non-formal classroom events.
Teaching Archaeology Sampler [PDF 746 KB]
This sampler was produced by SAA’s Public Education Committee to introduce archaeology in the classroom.
Historical Research Methods
Picture This: Using Photographs to Study the Past [PDF 292 KB]
Students discuss life in the past by interviewing an elder relative, friend, or neighbor and demonstrate the value of photos as primary sources
Written Clues about the Past [PDF 221 KB]
Students read an 1854 diary entry written by a nine-year-old boy to identify artifacts found in the 20th century.
In the Field
Archaeology from Above [PDF 188 KB]
Students learn to identify symbols and features on a topographic map.
Science on the Surface: An Archaeological Survey [PDF 448 KB]
Students simulate an archaeological survey to recognize and use basic archaeological procedures, analyze survey data, and make inferences about human behavior.
Gridding an Archaeological Site [PDF 299 KB]
Using a map and the Cartesian coordinate system, students establish a grid system over an archaeological site, determine the location of artifacts within each grid unit, and develop interpretations concerning the distribution of artifacts to explain what people in the past may have done at this site in the past. Provided courtesy of George Brauer of the Baltimore County Public Schools.
What Gets Preserved? [PDF 6 KB]
After students learn about a past culture, they will review those items that people used and discuss if those items would preserve in the archaeological context. Students will also discuss conditions that could lead to better or worse preservation. Provided courtesy of George Schneider, Elementary Teacher, Wanda Hirsch School in Tracy, California.
Measuring Distance [PDF 6 KB]
Grades 1 and 2
Students learn measuring techniques by simulating how archaeologists locate, measure, and record artifacts using two points of reference. Requires metric measuring tapes and rulers, 8.5”x11” paper (simulating an excavation unit) with artifacts and ordinal directions drawn on them. Provided courtesy of George Schneider, Elementary Teacher, Wanda Hirsch School in Tracy, California.
How Old Is It?
An Exercise in Seriation Dating [PDF 123 KB]
Students develop a chronology of occupation for seven Maryland sites by charting changes in historical ceramic decoration overtime. Provided courtesy of George Brauer, Baltimore County Public Schools.
Analyzing and Interpreting
Artifact Interpretation [PDF 101 KB]
A simple exercise that demonstrates the amount of information that the study of a single artifact—a coin—can yield about a society.
What do you see? [PDF 344 KB]
Students demonstrate differences between observations, inferences, and opinions while analyzing a painting.
Tools and Utensils: How is This Used? [PDF 112 KB]
In this lesson students observe the form and shapes of tools of the past and make predictions about tool functions based on contemporary examples.
Tell an Artifact's Story [PDF 219 KB]
Students examine and describe objects, writing a creative story from their observations.
Measuring Artifacts [PDF 7 KB]
Students measure artifacts of various shapes and sizes using both the English and Metric systems. Requires calipers, tapes, rulers, string, and artifacts or photocopies of artifacts. Provided courtesy of George Schneider, Elementary Teacher, Wanda Hirsch School in Tracy, California.
Archaeological Interpretation: The McDonald's Archaeologist [PDF 197 KB]
Using architectural plans from McDonald's restaurants overtime, students make interpretations about change overtime at the site and expand upon these interpretations to make inferences about changes in American culture. Provided courtesy of George Brauer, Baltimore County Public Schools.
Interpreting an Archaeological Site [PDF 123 KB]
Using a diagram of a soil profile, students apply the skills that archaeologists use to reconstruct events that took place at an archaeology site. Students will pose a series of research questions that would be answered during and after the excavation. Provided courtesy of George Brauer, Baltimore County Public Schools.
History Beneath the Sea: Nautical Archaeology in the Classroom [PDF 27.0 MB]
History Beneath the Sea is the first "Teaching with Archaeology" education module prepared by SAA’s Public Education Committee.