Introducing History by Staging an Archaeological Dig

Let's get down and dirty, shall we?  In this post, we're sharing how you can stage your own archaeological dig with your students with a little preparation and a patch of dirt.   There is a time investment in this activity, but what better way to introduce history to young people than to give them an experience of how the real folks do it?  All of the activity printouts that you will see here come from our Archaeology Tool Kit which you can purchase for easy download in our teacher store.

In that activity packet, we also offer a lesson plan for staging an Inside Archaeological Dig, just in case you only have a classroom to work with. 

The fun of doing a Dig is that I can almost guarantee that after this hands-on lesson, at least one kid is going to come away from it thinking, "I want to do THAT when I grow up!" 

Also after this experience, any primary sources or artifacts that are observed in your upcoming history lessons will be treated with a bit more awe.  When kids have an understanding of what goes into discovering that artifact, respect naturally follows.

But let's discuss how to Prepare for your Dig.  First, we need some "Artifacts".  There are three types of artifacts we recommend for this activity:  Material Remains (chicken bones will do the trick), Points (arrowheads can be purchased inexpensively online), and Potsherds, or Shards.

Let's start with the Shards.

There are many recipes for homemade pottery out there.  We include our own simple recipe using common household ingredients in our Tool Kit.  But if you want to pick something up for this, you can always grab some clay at a local craft store.  Best results for breaking your pottery will occur if you don't allow it to dry completely. 

Don't worry to much about creating an aged look.  Five minutes buried in your dig will accomplish wonders.

Bury your items in an area that is roughly 3' by 2'.  Mark it off with twine and label the grid with letters corresponding to our Grid Chart above.  Make sure everything is covered up with dirt, but not too deep.  It's a good idea to keep track somewhere yourself, just how many items you buried and what they were. 

If it would make it more fun (it did for us), send your students Glimmercat's letter (seen above) in an envelope, inviting them to take place in an Archaeological Dig and explaining the items they will need to keep an eye out for. 

In order to better prepare, we then watched some real archaeologists in online videos, as they explained how carefully they sifted through their dirt.  This turns out to be important when searching for arrowheads.  

Another important step when doing an outdoor dig, is to prepare for it by wearing clothing that can get dirty and including a good hat and sunscreen.    The clipboard also came in handy.

The tools you will need will vary depending on how solid your dirt-pack is.  Based on the assumption that you prepared your dig right before the lesson, kids might be able to get away with just using their hands.  I suppose they could use gloves, but gloves can be unwieldy.  A shovel is way too big and could damage artifacts.  A trowel might even be too big, though we did have one available. 

A good stiff hair colorist brush is very helpful.  But little hands that aren't afraid to get dirty are the best tool you can use for this activity. 

We wanted to add letters to our Grid to help make the connection between the worksheet on the clipboard and the physical map of the dig.  So we added letters, as you can see here.  We secured our letters (to match our Grid) with thumbtacks.  Small metal tent-stakes would have worked even better. 

The best moment of all when you do this activity is when that first artifact is found.  Ours was a small arrowhead.  The excitement is tangible and all of a sudden, everyone is wide awake and ready to search for more "treasures"!  But first, we must mark down where we found it and what we found:

First on the Location Grid, she marks down the Letter corresponding with the area she discovered her arrowhead.  And next...

She draws a rough picture showing what and where in her area.  Once this is completed, she can head back to the Dig and look for more!

An exciting addendum to this lesson is to allow student to attempt a reparation of their pottery pieces.  If you include pottery in your dig, that is. 

Allowing the students the opportunity to carefully clean and glue the pieces back together will again, give them a new understanding when they see repaired artifacts in a museum or photos of the same online. 

Thank you so much for reading about our Archaeological Dig!  We'd love to hear how you introduce history in YOUR classroom in the comments. 


Amanda said...

I **love** this activity. This type of hands-on learning is such a great way to get students excited and involved in their own learning. I really like how you included different elements in your dig and made it to extend into other areas of their learning. What a perfect way to teach students about history , thank you for sharing!

Sharon said...

I'll bet your kids had so much fun with this lesson! I especially like the ideas of making your own pottery for the dig and of following up with a pottery mending project!

Christina Morrison said...

Thank you both so much! Sharon, my kids LOVED this lesson. And now, when there are mentions of archaeologists or archaeological finds, their ears perk up: they have a whole new idea of what it means to BE an archaeologist.