Traces: Historic Archaeology

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.

Guiding Questions

What artifacts do archaeologists recover and what do we learn from them?

Learning Objectives

List at least five different kinds of artifacts archaeologists have found in U.S. excavations.

Cite artifacts when describing life at a particular archaeological site.

Hypothesize about how an archaeologist of the future might interpret a common contemporary object.