History Trunks – Archaeology



This month we explored archaeology and how it is used to understand Kansas history. We used a trunk from the Kansas State Historical Society which included several different hands on activities to engage the kids.

We began by viewing, discussing and classifying artifacts layered over several different time periods. We talked about the four main categories that are used to classify objects – food, shelter, clothing/jewelry and cultural traditions – and how items can be in more than one category. We also talked about how the older an item is, the harder it can be to determine what an object is and how it was used. The kids did a great job of analyzing the objects and came up with some creative ideas for what each item in the lower (older) layers might be and how they might be classified.

The display of layers and artifacts

Exploring the bottom layer of artifacts (artifacts from other layers in fore and background)

We then moved on the pottery sherd sets included in the trunk. The kids tried to match up the pieces, which gave them an idea of how difficult it can be for an archaeologist to piece together their findings from dig sites. The kids then used the enclosed worksheet to work on classifying the pieces. Each pair or group of kids determined their own classification criteria, which gave them insight into how researchers at different sites might end up with different classifications.

Classifying the pottery sherds

We finished our class by exploring, analyzing, and sketching a mock dig site of a Wichita Indian grass shelter. The kids were given a worksheet that discussed the differences between observation and inference, and we determined which things we could observe at the site and which things we could only infer. After that, the kids used graph paper to sketch out the site, just as a professional archaeologist would do as part of their record keeping.

The mock dig site of a Wichita Indian grass shelter

Discussing observation vs. inference

Using graph paper to sketch out the dig site as an archaeologist would do

To learn more about archaeology, and especially archaeology in Kansas, here are some books that I used to prepare for the class which are available at the Johnson County library:

Kid-friendly reference and non-fiction books:
Archaeologist Dig for Clues
DK Eyewitness Archeology
DK Eyewitness Early Humans
DK Eyewitness Treasure
Faces from the Past by Deem
100 Things You Should Know About Archaeology by Farndon
Prehistoric People of North America by Childress
Scientists in Action: Archaeologists! by Thompson
Treasure Hunters: Ancient Treasures by Hunter

Archaeology-themed fiction:
A Big Adventure for a Small Seed by Hawley
Magic School Bus Shows and Tells by Cole

General reference:
The Caddis, the Wichitas, and the United States by Smith
Kansas Archaeology by Hoard and Banks

A big thank you to the Kansas State Historical Society for making this great trunk available (and the others that we have used 1, 2, 3)! And thank you to all the families and kids for participating in the class!


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