Lesson Plan

Let's Be an Archeologist

Grade Level:
First Grade-Fifth Grade
Anthropology, Archaeology, History
30 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 24 (4-8 breakout groups)
National/State Standards:
Colorado Social Studies:
1st grade 2.2; 2nd grade 2.2; 3rd grade 2.1
archeology, artifact, midden


Students will learn about the reasoning methods of archaeologists and gain insight about a culture by making their own inferences about the people who occupied an archaeology site.


Students will learn about the reasoning methods of archaeologists and gain insight about a culture by making their own inferences about the people who occupied an archaeology site.


Archaeologists could be considered archaeo-dumpster-divers (although you might not want to use that title in person). They sift through the surviving remnants of ancient cultures-which is mostly trash. Looking through middens (ancient refuse heaps) can tell one about the materials used by the people and can lead to further insight. Middens can reveal what people ate, how they collected their food, what kind of clothing they wore, and how they built their homes.

Although searching through a culture's trash may explain many mysteries, there are many that remain. What stories did they tell? What songs did they sing? What myths did they believe in?

In this activity, students will pick up litter to learn about our own culture and draw conclusions based on those observations.

Explore Great Sand Dunes' web page on History and Culture to learn more about early peoples of the dunes area.


Paper, pencils, an outdoor setting where litter is to be found, gloves, trash bags


Decide on a location for students to search for litter (artifacts). This activity may also be done with a trash can in the classroom. Protective gloves should be worn by the students collecting or sifting through the trash.

Discuss and agree upon a procedure for searching for 'artifacts' or excavating the trash can. Remind them that the order in which the items are found (if found vertically sequenced) may provide insight into their depositional order. (Things on top are usually younger.) Students should be grouped in pairs. One student will do the collecting and the other will record what they find. After about fifteen minutes of collecting litter, have all the students gather in one location and discuss their findings.

After they have considered their evidence for a while, have them answer the following questions using only the evidence they found. They should not make inferences based on prior knowledge of our culture. Conclusions must reflect the artifacts collected.

  1. In what activities are people from our culture involved?
  2. What kinds of things do we eat?
  3. Do we conserve or waste our goods and products?
  4. Do we know anything specific about individual people in the culture?
  5. Were any of the artifacts old? And if so, how can we tell?
  6. What general conclusions can we make about our culture?
  7. What does the fact that protective gloves need to be worn for this activity tell us about our culture?


Review the observations and conclusions students made about the 'artifacts' they discovered during their archaeological survey. Because we are part of this culture, we know much more about how we live than the artifacts suggest.

  1. How is the story told by the artifacts incomplete?
  2. Which important cultural aspects are missing from the conclusions we made?
  3. Were our conclusions accurate?
  4. Since archaeologists primarily examine the materials left behind, what cultural aspects may be missing from archaeologists' conclusions?


archeologist, midden