K-12 Activities & Resources

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

Life on Earth
Grades K-12
This image is a dramatic illustration of the short length of time that humans have inhabited the earth, compared to other forms of life.

Why is the Past Important? [PDF 96 KB]
Grades 4-7
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]
Grades 4-8
This series of activities provides an introduction to, and helps students to develop, a concept of the past.

Introducing Archaeology

The Draw-an-Archaeologist Test [PDF 836 KB]
Grades K-6
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]
Grades 4-7
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]
Grades 6-8
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.

Archaeology in the News [PDF 59 KB]
Grades 6-8
Using contemporary news stories, students gather information, practice distinguishing between fact and opinion, and use a map to locate archaeological sites. Provided courtesy of George Brauer, Baltimore County Public Schools.

ArchaeologyLand! [PDF 3.1 MB]
Grades K+
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]
Grades 3-12
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 1.1 MB]
Grades 4-8
Students analyze an old photograph to understand that photographs are primary source material, and may contain valuable details about the past.

Written Clues about the Past [PDF 221 KB]
Grade 3
Students read an 1854 diary entry written by a nine-year-old boy to identify artifacts found in the 20th century.

In the Field

Topographic Map Unit Plan [PDF 16 KB]
Grades 9-12
In this four-part instructional activity, students learn to identify features on a topographic map by examining contour lines and intervals and complete a topographic map lab assessment involving archaeology evidence of cultural habitation of the landscape. This unit plan can be integrated into a lesson on GPS and the creation of topographic maps. Provided courtesy of Marc Henshaw, Heritage High School, Newport News, Virginia.

Science on the Surface: An Archaeological Survey [PDF 448 KB]
Grades 7-12
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]
Grade 5
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]
Grades 1-12
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.

Digging in the Classroom: Puzzles [PDF 6 KB]
Grades K-2
Given a simulated archaeological site in a small box that includes puzzle pieces as artifacts, students will excavate, measure, and record each artifact, or puzzle piece, before it is removed. Once all the students have excavated their simulated archaeological site, they will work together as a team to put the puzzle back together and make an interpretation about the archaeological site. This activity requires tape measures, rulers, string, line levels, trowels (can be spoons or spatulas), various brushes, small dust pans, whisk brooms to get excavated dirt out of box and into the shaker screen (sieves), extra boxes for the sifter to shake the dirt into, and newspaper for tables and floor. Provided courtesy of George Schneider, Elementary Teacher, Wanda Hirsch School in Tracy, California.

Digging in the Classroom: Pottery [PDF 6 KB]
Grades 1-12
Students will learn the importance of archaeological context by examining a simulated archaeological sites with pot sherds. Students will focus on the position of the pot sherds and the importance of recording each artifact before removing them. After all the pot sherds are excavated, students will attempt to reconstruct the pot by gluing it back together. Activity requires measuring tapes, rulers, string, line levels, trowels, various brushes, small dust pans, whisk brooms, shaker screens (sieves), and newspaper for tables and floor. Provided courtesy of George Schneider, Elementary Teacher, Wanda Hirsch School in Tracy, California.

Digging in the Classroom: Pictures [PDF 6 KB]
Grades K-2
Students will excavate a simulated archaeological site that contains photocopied pictures. The learners will then excavate the pictures, measure and record their position, put the pictures in order, and attempt to interpret what happened from these photos. Activity requires measuring tapes, rulers, string, line levels, trowels (can be spoons or spatulas), various brushes, small dust pans, whisk brooms, and shaker screens (sieves), extra boxes for the sifter to shake the dirt into, and newspaper for tables and floor. 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.

What is this Stuff? Artifact or Ecofact? [PDF 133 KB]
Grade 3
Students evaluate whether an item is human made or something from nature. Provided courtesy of George Brauer, Baltimore County Public Schools.

How Old Is It?

Pipe Stem Dating Activity
Grades 7-12
In this activity, students analyze tobacco pipe stem fragments from Jamestown to determine when past people formed the archaeological site.

An Exercise in Seriation Dating [PDF 123 KB]
Grades 9-12
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]
Grades 5-12
A simple exercise that demonstrates the amount of information that the study of a single artifact—a coin—can yield about a society.

Tools and Utensils: How is This Used? [PDF 112 KB]
Grades 5-8
In this lesson students observe the form and shapes of tools of the past and make predictions about tool functions based on contemporary examples.

Telling an Object's Story [PDF 290 KB]
Grades 6-10
This activity is designed to be done with students while visiting a local museum.

Measuring Artifacts [PDF 7 KB]
Grades K-6
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]
Grades 9-12
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.

The Iceman 1 [PDF 6 KB]
Grades 9-12
After reading and discussing articles and books about Otzi, the Iceman, students write research questions based on the information from their readings. The lesson requires several articles and one book on the Iceman. Provided courtesy of George Schneider, Elementary Teacher, Wanda Hirsch School in Tracy, California.

The Iceman 2 [PDF 6 KB]
Grades 9-12
After reading and discussing articles and books about Otzi the Iceman, students will understand what scientists can learn about Native North Americans from studying the Iceman of Europe.  The lesson requires several articles and one book on the Iceman. Provided courtesy of George Schneider, Elementary Teacher, Wanda Hirsch School in Tracy, California.

Interpreting an Archaeological Site [PDF 123 KB]
Grades 5-8
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]
Grades 9-12
History Beneath the Sea is the first "Teaching with Archaeology" education module prepared by SAA’s Public Education Committee.

Archaeological Issues

To Dig or not to Dig: The Stadium Showdown [PDF 187 KB]
Grades 7-12
This ethical dilemma encourages students to examine a real-world scenario faced by many archaeologists. Through the use of role play, students examine their personal beliefs and feelings concerning the protection of cultural resources, and evaluate possible actions they might take regarding the protection of cultural resources. Students will analyze conflicting points-of-view using a discussion format, participate in a group centered decision-making activity focusing on a public issue, articulate personal decisions about issues affecting the individual and community, and explore personal values concerning the preservation of historical resources. Provided courtesy of George Brauer, Baltimore County Public Schools.

Preservation in the Classroom: Learning the Law [PDF 299 KB]
Grades 7-12
A series of lesson plans for teaching about historic preservation legislation. Designed for middle and high school students, but provides useful classroom activities for elementary educators as well.