Lesson Plan

The Dirt on Ancestral Puebloan Plaster and Paint

Red and white plaster used to create mural at Cliff Palace
Plastered and painted mural at Cliff Palace


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Grade Level:
Third Grade-Eighth Grade
Architecture, Art, Science and Technology
About 60 minutes, depending on how in-depth you want to make the project.
Group Size:
Up to 36
indoors or outdoors
National/State Standards:

•Science -
CO.3.S.ESS.1, CO.6.S.LS.1, CO.6.S.ESS.3
•Visual Arts -
CO.5.VA.CRE.3, CO.6.VA.CRE.2, CO.7.VA.COMP.2,
Ancestral Pueblo, mesa verde national park, art, soils


Plaster and paint are integral parts of archeological research at Mesa Verde. In this lesson, students use soil to create their own plaster artwork. They also act as archeologists and use the scientific method to explain how the Ancestral Pueblo people used soil to make plaster and paint.

For this activity, the scientific method includes 5 basic steps: Making observations, asking informed questions, forming a hypothesis, testing hypotheses, and revising a hypothesis or forming a conclusion.


Students will be able to:

  • Describe how soil is used to make pigment plaster and paint
  • Differentiate between sand, silt and clay
  • Describe the main components of Puebloan plaster
  • Create their own plaster design
  • Explain why archaeologists study plaster
  • Conduct and evaluate a scientific exploration of plaster
  • Describe the steps of the scientific method


  • Cobblestones/pestle and bowl for grinding
  • Paper cups or bowls (4 oz. size)
  • Pencils
  • Paint brushes (Puebloans would have used yucca brushes and their hands)
  • Sponges, rags, or paper towels
  • Sandpaper and masking tape
  • Small clipboards or stiff boards
  • Soil -- various colors and textures, without a lot of rock or organic material.
  • Clay, Sand, and Silt samples
  • Tubs and/or buckets for cleanup

Last updated: September 11, 2015