Activity 9: Mineral Use
BUILDING A ROCK AND MINERAL HOUSE
Ancient Puebloans survived by using the resources available to them, including in the construction of their homes. Students will construct a house in the same way ancient pueblo people did using resources according to their availability and specific properties.
Present to students the importance of knowing rock and mineral properties in order to determine usefulness.
Preparation: 40 min
From USGS: Did you know that in Pre-Columbian times, indigenous people in North America mined turquoise, jet, opal, copper, silver, coal, obsidian, asbestos, salt, and sodium sulfate, as well as other minerals and igneous rocks? Turquoise, jet, opal, copper, and silver were mined mostly for decorative use. Coal was extracted for use as fuel. Obsidian and other igneous rocks were mined to make tools including projectile points, mortars and pestles, grinding stones, and stone axes. Clay and asbestos were mined to make pottery; salt was used as a preservative and for flavoring; and sodium sulfate was used as a purgative.
The ancient peoples of the southwest used the resources around them to build houses, supply food, make clothing and jewelry, and to supply warmth. The people of Mesa Verde, Hovenweep and Canyon de Chelly survived off the land in this way. They used what was available and quickly learned the potential uses and resulting importance of different rocks and minerals.
The southwest is very dry. Plants grow abundantly in wet years but are sparse in dry years. Animal Populations respond in the same manner. Therefore, it is very difficult to rely on specific plants and animals for specific uses. The idea of using skins and wood for housing structures was thought of as wasteful when these resources could be used for the more important purpose of keeping the people warm. One thing Native Americans in the southwest could rely on to build houses was an abundant supply of strong rock. This commonly available resource provided material for construction of walls, grinding utensils, weapons and decoration.
A list of things used to construct buildings at Hovenweep National Monument illustrates this common use of rock in construction:
Facts about the masonry in the buildings at Hovenweep.
If a useful rock or mineral was difficult to find, it became more valuable to the group of people. People would trade between communities to attain these resources that might be scarce in their area. For instance, obsidian is very good for constructing arrowheads. If you live in a location with little to no obsidian and your neighbors 50 miles (80.5 km) away have abundant obsidian, you will travel long distances to trade for the rock. Because you had to travel so far, it became more valuable.
In this activity, students will be provided with different amounts of various rocks, minerals and other resources. They will be asked to construct (draw) a house needed for survival using the resources available. If there is a limited amount of one resource, it becomes more valuable and more precious. If the resource is abundant, it is less precious and is available for more uses. The resource's usefulness is based on its properties. If turquoise is available but in small supply, it's beauty would lead to the making of jewelry instead of decorating walls or pots. Sandstone is abundant and available for house building where animal skins are not. Pliable and soft metals would be more useful for jewelry than for tools, etc.
Who was able to build their house? Was everyone build the house needed for their family to survive? What would they do if they could not? Would they raid others or would they move?
It may be good to divide students into teams or families, so that they may construct items together.
Have students write a short story describing how difficult it would have been to live during the ancient pueblo times where knowing different resource properties was important in survival. What they would do if a necessary resource was not available?
Included National Parks and other sites:
Utah Science Core:
2nd Grade Standard 6 Objective 1,2
Did You Know?
The geologic term, hoodoo, lives on at Bryce Canyon National Park as perpetuated by early geologists who thought the rock formations could cast a spell on you with their magical spires and towering arches. More...