Lesson Plans: Excavation Projects

The AIA's excavation projects emphasize the importance of archaeological context as well as the fun of discovery and interpretation. Lessons apply to a variety of disciplines and subjects. Some require actual digging (with a trowel: Schoolyard Dig, or mini-trowel or spoon: Layer Cake and Shoebox Digs). The Mystery Cemetery project instead represents an imaginary site that has already been excavated and now must be analyzed.

Through simulated excavations, students solve puzzles, have fun, and learn skills that apply to many disciplines. Even though digging up finds is exciting, archaeologists follow important procedures during excavation and work together as a team. As they dig, they must always be aware that they are destroying evidence even as they uncover it. If excavators do not notice that artifacts are associated, or if they dig too deeply and combine the artifacts from two different layers, valuable information may be lost forever. Objects without a proper context can give us little information about how, why, and when they were used.

An ideal simulated excavation should reflect the importance of careful digging and recording. It should also allow students to experience first-hand the results of careless work as well as the reasons for using proper procedures. When students learn to work as a team and preserve the context of artifacts, they will discover which finds belong together and share the fun of solving a puzzle.

Introduction to Archaeology and Excavation: Definitions, Concepts, Procedures
An overview and explanation for teachers of essential archaeological information needed to run a schoolroom dig.

Simulated Digs
Conducting an archaeological dig is messy, but it offers fun, mystery, and kinesthetic learning that applies to many academic contexts and subjects. Digs can illuminate the problems all researchers confront when they must draw conclusions on the basis of insufficient evidence. They can help teachers reveal how cultures have changed through time. Through observation and inference, students learn invaluable interpretive skills in a hands-on context, while having fun and solving a problem. Our cake and shoebox digs are aimed at elementary grades, mostly K-3, but can be adapted for later elementary grades through Middle School. The Schoolyard dig is suitable for high school students.

  • Layer Cake Archaeology
  • Transparent Shoebox Dig
  • Shoebox Dig
  • Schoolyard Dig

Mystery Cemetery Project
A project adaptable for ages 10 to 110. The analysis of a small cemetery of skeletons and burial goods teaches critical-thinking skills and illustrates the importance of context for interpretation in archaeology and social science. Teachers must use their own discretion and knowledge of their students in introducing this lesson to their classes, since the excavation and analysis of burials is a culturally sensitive issue.

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