About This Lesson Plan



Lesson Ideas

Lesson Idea 1: Create a Civilization/Do an Archaeological Dig


  • Understands selected attributes and historical developments of societies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe
  • Understands how historians learn about the past if there are no written records
  • Understands the historical perspective
  • Knows different kinds of primary and secondary sources and the motives, interests and biased expressed in them.
  • Understands the biological and cultural processes that shaped the earliest human communities
  • Understands methods by which early human communities are studied and what these studies reveal
  • understands how different kinds of evidence are used to determine the cultural characteristics of early human communities

Art Connections

  • Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines
  • Knows how various concepts and principles are used in the arts and disciplines outside the arts
  • Writing (Common Core)
  • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
  • Research (Common Core)
  • Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

[Source: http://www.mccrel.org/]

Students will work in groups to imagine an ancient mythological civilization and create artifacts and primary sources to represent it. They will trade their artifacts with another group. Each group will then become archaeologists, analyzing another group's artifacts for clues about its civilization's culture and way of life.

Students will...

  • Learn to work in cooperative groups
  • Analyze primary sources
  • Develop critical thinking skills
  • Construct historical narratives based on a research investigation

These are suggestions only, project can be done using a variety of free or low-cost materials

  • old clothing/scraps of fabric (light and heavy materials)
  • scrap wood
  • cardboard boxes (old cereal boxes or copy paper boxes)
  • rope or twine
  • metal wire
  • raffia
  • found objects (old toys, school supplies, plastic bottles, containers, etc.)
  • beads
  • crayons, markers, colored pencils
  • washable, nontoxic tempera paint & brushes
  • air-dry modeling clay
  • school glue
  • hot glue (teacher should handle, not students)
  • needle & thread
  • scissors


Students will work in teams of 4-5 students. Divide classroom up into workstations for each group. Place a selection of materials at each workstation.


1. Divide students into groups. Discuss with them the roles of archaeologists and historians in uncovering artifacts and studying them for clues to learn about ancient civilizations. Tell them how the Rosetta Stone was the key to unlocking the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics and how the images on ancient Greek pottery told us about Greek culture. You may wish to use examples of artifacts that are relevant to your curriculum.

2. Tell students that each group will create its own imaginary civilization. The groups will each create at least 4-5 artifacts that give clues to their civilization's culture and way of life. For example, they might invent their own language and create a Rosetta Stone of their own; they might make a tool, piece of pottery, or artwork. They might even create clothing or shoes.

3. Before they start creating their artifacts, each group must write down the answers to the following questions. They should not share their answers with other groups.

  • In what kind of climate does your civilization live?
  • Are they nomadic or do they stay in one location?
  • What do they eat? Do they hunt, gather, or farm?
  • How do they cook their food? How do they contain it?
  • How do they communicate? Do they have a written language?
  • Are they peaceful or war-like?
  • What kinds of rituals or ceremonies are important?
  • Do your people make art? What kinds?

Collect the answers from each group and keep them in a safe place until the end of the project.

4. Allow a full class period for groups to create their artifacts. Circulate around the room to offer help to those who need it. Tell students to remember that they should create artifacts that would theoretically last for a number of years.

5. Have groups trade their artifacts with one another. Tell students that they will now become archaeologists. They have just discovered a major archaeological site and uncovered this treasure trove of artifacts. Have the groups study the artifacts and answer the questions above, this time about another group's artifacts.

6. Have each group of archaeologists present their findings. Compare them with the original group's write-up. Use any discrepancies as an opportunity to discuss the inexact nature of uncovering history-sometimes archaeologists get it wrong and new evidence may change our understanding of civilizations.


If there is available space on your school campus, have groups bury their artifacts at a pre-chosen "archaeological site." Be sure the sites are clearly marked. One week later, return and have students dig up another group's artifacts. They may miss some and others will be damaged. This kind of weathering will help engage them in the understanding of the real conditions archeologists face when out in the field. If there is no space available on your school campus, invite students to weather and damage their own artifacts before trading them.


  • Groups students with different talents and strengths together. For example, you may wish to group together a student with strong engineering/construction skills, one with creative writing/thinking skills, one with strong geography/history skills, and one with artistic skills.
  • Students may wish to sketch their artifact designs before they begin building.
  • For students who are struggling, it may help for them to consider a specific problem or task in a society, such as-How do people in my society collect water? How do they dig soil? How do the keep warm in winter? What do they use to catch fish or hunt?-and create an artifact that helps with this task.
  • Students within each group should remember that they are working together as a team. Teammates should consult with one another and work together to create their artifacts. The project requires teamwork.
Help | Privacy Policy




(Separate multiple email addresses with commas)

Check this box to send yourself a copy of the email.


Scholastic respects your privacy. We do not retain or distribute lists of email addresses.