Junior Ranger: Past Peoples Challenge

Eight pottery fragments of different shapes and patterns, arranged on a green background; they are various sizes between three and ten centimeters wide.
Archeologists found these pottery fragments while excavating in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

NPS Midwest Archeological Center


Over the last 13,000 years the Cuyahoga River has brought many different people to live in this valley. It began with Paleoindians who followed their food here after the Ice Age. The Archaic people came next and were the first to settle here in seasonal camps. Later, Woodland peoples created burial mounds to honor their dead. The Whittlesey people built walls to protect their villages and stored food supplies. We have no written record of the lives of the valley's native people before the 1700s. They are "prehistoric." These different prehistoric groups changed and adapted to the wild Ohio landscape over time. Archeologists study artifacts that they find in the ground to understand past peoples' lives. Artifacts are anything made or used by humans.

When have you had to work hard to solve a puzzle? Did you have many clues to help you find a solution?

Scrambled photo of a beige artifact on a blue background; the twelve pieces are scrambled into three columns of four pieces each; the outcome is visually nonsensical.
Can you unscramble the pieces of this photo of an artifact found in the national park?

NPS Midwest Archeological Center / Karin Roberts

Play a Game

Sifting through garbage may not sound very fun, but archeologists do this type of work all the time! We don’t throw our garbage just anywhere, and neither did past peoples. Archeologists can find the garbage piles left behind (called middens) and search through the contents. These middens can hold clues to what life was like for the people that lived here long ago.

Can you discover one type of object archeologists have found in Cuyahoga Valley National Park by piecing together the clues? If you think you've figured it out, check your answer by viewing the unscrambled photo.

Outdoor Challenge

Now here is a challenge to hone your Junior Ranger skills. Go for a walk somewhere safe and outdoors. Search for clues left behind that may tell the story of a creature that walked in this place before you. How many of the following items can you find on your journey?

  • Bird scat (poop)
  • A spider web
  • A bird’s nest
  • An empty bottle
  • Animal or human tracks
  • Fur or feathers
  • A chewed leaf
  • A bone
  • A coin
  • A garbage can

How many items did you find? Do any of the items you found tell a story about what might have happened in the past few days?

Craft sticks spread out on a wooden table; each contains part of a drawing made mostly with gray marker.

NPS / Penny Uhlenbrock

Try at Home

Create your own mystery artifact puzzle for others to solve.


  • Craft sticks (cardboard or paper will work too)
  • Tape
  • Markers or crayons
  • Scissors (if using cardboard or paper)


  1. To begin, think about an object in your home that means a lot to you. Or pick an object you use every day.
  2. Draw a picture of that object on a piece of cardboard or paper, or on craft sticks taped together.
  3. Now either take the craft sticks apart or cut the picture into pieces.
  4. Give your artifact puzzle to someone else to put together, but don’t tell them what the picture is. Can they put the puzzle together?
Craft sticks lined up to reveal a drawing of a grey hippo surrounded by red and purple hearts.

NPS / Penny Uhlenbrock

When archeologists find pieces of pottery or other tools, they must put the pieces together and try to figure out what that object was used for. Could the person putting your puzzle together do it easily without knowing what the picture was?

What does that artifact tell someone about you? What would an archeologist think this object is 200 years from now?

We would love to hear from you!

If you would like to share your artifact puzzle with us, take a photo and send it to

Learn More

For an additional challenge, complete the Midwest Archeological Center’s Junior Ranger Archeology handbook.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Last updated: November 23, 2021