Mermaid Plate Found at London Town
Credit: Courtesy of Learning from London Town
None of the dead can rise up and answer our questions. But from all that they have left behind, their imperishable or slowly dissolving gear, we may perhaps hear voices, 'which are now only able to whisper, when everything else has become silent ..."
-- Bjorn Kurten
"It is terribly important that the 'small things forgotten' be remembered. For, in the seemingly little and insignificant things that accumulate to create a lifetime, the essence of our existence is captured."
-- James Deetz
Humans always leave behind traces of themselves. Analyzing the things people forget or discard and the things they preserve for others, archaeologists recover the voices of those who came before. What they hear is the "essence of our existence."
At this moment, we of the present are in the process of accumulating and leaving behind traces of our existence. What will archaeologists of the future hear when we whisper?
In this unit, students will "recover" and analyze artifacts from sites in use from the settlement period to the second half of the 19th century. They will look for similarities and differences among the artifacts and the lives they reveal. In conclusion, students will look at today's artifacts of the future and consider how we will be viewed.
Before you begin to teach this unit, review the suggested activities and familiarize yourself with the websites involved. Bookmark or download and print the artifact images you will use in Activities 2-4. (A complete listing of resource links is included at the end of this unit.)
You may wish to provide students with a copy of the Artifact Analysis Worksheet, available through EDSITEment at The Digital Classroom, to guide them as they review the artifacts in this unit.
Begin this unit by encouraging students to share stories about old things they have found. ("Found" items may have been discovered outside, or may have come from a relative's attic or basement, a garage sale, an antique seller, etc.) What were the items? How and where were they found? What uses did the items have? Could the students always tell what they had found? What did they think about when holding something so old? You may wish to share a story about an object you found, or display an unusual object to students to spark their interest and help fuel the discussion.
Introduce to students the Reed Farmstead archaeological site, available through the ArchNet website on EDSITEment. This is the site of a 19th-century rural farm, containing the remains of at least four and possibly as many as six buildings—three log houses, a possible springhouse or cold storage building, a possible barn and additional outbuilding, plus several cultural features. A raised earthen berm that may have enclosed either a barnyard and/or a cultivation plot was also observed. The site is located in an isolated area in mountainous country in Hardy County, West Virginia. Because of its isolated location, the site has been protected from disturbances and maintains its archaeological integrity -- giving scientists and historians an exciting chance to learn about farming techniques and other information that may not have been documented. Excavations at this site have unearthed household and farm-related artifacts.
Ask students what they think life might have been like on a farm during the 1800s. Write their ideas on the board or a sheet of paper and save for later reference.
Show students images of several artifacts found at the Reed Farmstead. You may wish to show the following artifacts or select others from the site you feel will be of interest to students. If appropriate, have students work in small groups to view the images of artifacts. The groups may fill out Digital Classroom's Artifact Analysis Worksheet and/or begin to discuss the artifacts' use and how they are similar to items used today for the same purpose.
You may also wish to show one or more of the unidentified artifacts from Reed Farmstead (and students may like to guess what they may have been used for).
Once students have viewed the artifacts, initiate a class discussion with the following questions:
After the discussion about artifacts has progressed, ask students again what they think life was like at the Reed Farmstead. Have students' ideas about life at Reed Farmstead changed since they viewed the artifacts? If so, how?
Finally, ask students how they know what life was like at the Reed Farmstead. This question should pinpoint for them the impact of archaeology—studying items used in the past helps us understand what life might have been like in the past.
Archaeologists also learn from objects which have been preserved. Governmental or commercial entities preserve official records. Family members pass objects they value from one generation to the next.
Introduce the town of London, Maryland to the students. Founded in 1684 on the shores of the South River, London became a thriving port. From 1710 through 1750, London Town grew significantly and rivaled Annapolis and Williamsburg, Virginia, in economic vitality. Though it was the county seat from 1684 to 1695, London Town's importance centered on the trade that flourished there. Ships would arrive with merchandise from Europe and the Caribbean and then carry the year's tobacco crop home.
From the EDSITEment-reviewed website Learning from London Town--London, Maryland, download the inventory of the household goods of Captain Anthony Beck made in 1750 shortly after his death. Share the list with the class. (NOTE: Online, explanations of many of the objects are linked directly to the name of the object. If practical, have a computer available during this lesson to access such information.)
Once students have viewed the list, initiate a class discussion with the following questions:
(NOTE: Students might be interested in seeing a digitized version of the original inventory list, also available through Learning from London Town.)
Divide students into groups and provide each group with a list and pictures of artifacts recovered from a specific archaeological site, from the following list of resources. (Note: in many cases, you can click on a thumbnail picture to view a larger image. In classes with sufficient access to technology, student groups could gather around a computer to view the artifacts.)
Proceeding in chronological order, let the first group describe/show a type of artifact from their site they think will not be on any other list. See if any groups have the same kind of artifact. Continue by asking each group to show an artifact they think is unique to their site.
Conduct a second round in which the groups describe/show a type of object they think might be found at every site. See which groups have the same artifact. Allow further discussion about any particular artifacts students find intriguing.
Just as artifacts from the past help archaeologists (and students) of today learn about the past, items that we use today will become artifacts of the future, giving archaeologists a glimpse into our lives. Have students ever considered that something they use every day will one day seem ancient and maybe even unexplainable?
If time allows, you may wish to give some examples of items that once were commonplace and now have been replaced through technology or other advancements. You don't need to go too far into the past to find examples -- vinyl records, roller skates with metal wheels (instead of inline skates) and metal lunchboxes are just a few items students may relate to.
Give everyone in the class a penny to scrutinize. What might an archaeologist of the future conclude if this were the only artifact he or she had of an unknown civilization of the past? Ask students to discuss their theories and provide their reasoning.
Now the students are ready to work independently. Divide students into small groups and assign each group (or have them select) a present-day "artifact" for analysis. Each group should keep the identity of its artifact a secret. Students should use the Artifact Analysis Worksheet (or an adaptation of the worksheet) available from The Digital Classroom site to note pertinent information about their artifacts.
After the artifact analysis is completed, each group should make a presentation of its findings to the class. As information about the artifact is revealed, other students will try to guess the identity of the artifact being described.
The artifact analyses done by students in this unit can serve as a model for studying other archaeological sites in different locations in the United States or other countries. Many resources are available online with images of artifacts and dig sites, as well as other information about what scientists are learning at each site. You may wish to visit any or all of the following archaeological sites:
Students could be assigned to investigate separate archaeological sites individually or as a group, with each group responsible for reporting back to the class the following information:
Prepare a large chart, to become a master lists of tools, techniques and artifacts, with a column for identifying the site related to each.
When all the groups are done, the class reconvenes, to compare their findings. Proceed in chronological order. After each group reports, add to the master chart at least one tool, technique and artifact. Discuss the techniques and tools with an emphasis on the care the scientist must take at every step in recording observations and preserving artifacts. Discuss artifacts in terms of how scientists learn from them.
Additional Resources for Extending Archeology Study
2 class periods