Ancient Artifacts Included in Lesson Plans Can Engage Students
Bringing ancient mysterious artifacts into the classroom sparks the interest of students and opens them up to learn a variety of things about other cultures. This leads to a greater awareness of how they relate to their own culture and to the planet. This glimpse into the past can motivate many students to have a different perspective about the future.
To do justice to the item you wish to include in your lesson plan, be as prepared as you can about the history surrounding the artifact. Whether you bring in a photograph or an actual object, the questions from the students will be the same. The fewer times you have to respond “I don’t know the answer; I’ll have to check on that,” the longer you will keep the students’ attention.
Begin by having a good understanding of the item in context. What was the item to the culture in which it existed? Let’s assume that we are working with a clay vessel that held food items and may have been used in some ritual.
How old is “ancient?” What is the relevance of an ancient item to the students? What is so special about an old clay pot? Explain aspects of the culture and why it chose to create this particular item. How was the particular shape chosen? What about the material from which it was constructed? Discuss any markings or decorations on the item. Ask the students to step into the role of a member of this community and get a sense of what this clay pot meant to the people.
What makes this clay pot mysterious? Was it mysterious to the ancient culture or was it just a clay pot to hold food? Is it mysterious to us because we are projecting our own sense of purpose to the item? If we could meet a person from that time, would they say “Oh, that’s just an old pot that we used to store beets.” Or would they say “That’s a sacred vessel that we used to offer food to our Goddess of the Harvest.” Sometimes we don’t know the truth. Sometimes mysteries stay just mysteries and never become facts. That can be motivating to students to seek more information about an item brought into the classroom.
An artifact can be anything that tells us something about a culture. After a discussion about the ancient artifact, open up the discussion to how we might be viewed by others in the future. What will people find 2,000 years from now that they will use to define our culture? Students may begin looking at “things” differently when they understand that our things will become our future ancient artifacts.
If this is a middle school or higher age group, an exercise might consist of having them break into groups of “amateur archaeologists.” Give each group the task of finding artifacts. Have them decide how they would approach a historical site. What would they look for? How would they discover the items? A little bit of role play and a little guided imagery could draw in students who consider history and archeology unexciting.
Their goal could be to find our clay pot, but on the way, they will find other items. With each discovery, have them ask the following questions:
- How would they describe the artifact?
- What do they think the item is made of?
- What do they think the item was used for and by whom?
- What can they deduce about the culture from the item?
After an exercise like this, discuss the clay pot again in terms of what the students learned from being amateur archaeologists.
The archeology discussion
This exercise can also lead to a discussion about archeology in general that students may find interesting. Some of the discussion points could include:
- Who owns an artifact when it is discovered?
- What should someone do when they find an artifact? Keep it or give it to a museum?
- Who owns an artifact that is found in the ocean?
- How does a person approach looking for artifacts when they are on private property?
When you bring ancient mysterious artifacts into your classroom, you open students up to discovering a new world of knowledge. For those who consider history a dry topic, they may find that it is full of mystery and discovery.