Lesson Plan

What Did They Eat?: Archeology and Animal Bones

Cabins at Magnolia Plantation.

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Science,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6.RI.4, 6.RI.7, 6-8.RST.1, 6-8.RST.3, 6-8.RST.4, 6-8.RST.7
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How do archeologists know what people in the past ate? How they acquired their food? What can analysis of animal bones reveal about available resources?

Este plan de clase con actividades incluido también está disponible en español.


1. Learn how archeologists use animal bones to know more about past diets.
2. Explore the methodological steps of faunal analysis and how archeologists interpret their results.
3. Complete a simulated faunal analysis activity using data from Magnolia Plantation.

This lesson plan and activities is also available in Spanish.


Archeology is an interdisciplinary field that utilizes a wide range of historical and scientific methodologies to study human life in the past. When analyzing a site, archeologists use techniques from multiple fields such as biology, geology, and chemistry.

Faunal analysis, the study of animal bones, is one scientific method that archeologists use. It then shows how archeologists can combine collected animal bone data with historical research and artifact information to answer questions about food access and consumption in the past.


Students will need pencils or pens and scrap paper.


Download Student Handout

Download Student Activity Sheet

Download Teacher Answer Key

Download En Español - ¿Qué comían? Arqueología y huesos animales

Download En Español - Actividad

Download En Español - Hoja de respuestas Análisis de fauna

Lesson Hook/Preview

This lesson introduces students to faunal analysis, the study of animal bones found at archeological sites. Activities prompt students to apply this method to enhance their own analytical and interpretive skillsets.


Step 1: Provide each student with a printed copy of the worksheet pages (Introduction through Activity).

Step 2: Have students read the provided background information about archeology and faunal analysis.

Step 3: Have the students complete the simulated faunal analysis activity. Review their answers.


Abundance: count of individuals per species, compares how common one species is to another

Archeology: the scientific study of humans within the past

Biomass: the amount of meat that an animal can yield depending on the animal’s size

Classification: grouping objects into certain categories based on their attributes

Minimum number of individuals (MNI): estimates the lowest number of individual animals within a given species present on a site

Number of identified specimen (NISP): total count of bones per species

Qualitative: based on observable attributes (qualities) such as size and shape

Quantitative: based on measured amounts (quantities) such as counts

Taxon: category of organisms based on biological characteristics

Taxonomy: scientific classification of organisms into hierarchical categories

Ubiquity: records species presence or absence

Zooarcheology: the study of animal bones at archeological sites

Enrichment Activities

Explore the bone artifacts on the American Southwest Virtual Museum’s webpage. How might these artifacts help archeologists understand more about how people lived in the past including their diet and daily activities?

Additional Resources

Learn more about Magnolia Plantation and Cane River Creole National Historical Park:

Magnolia Plantation History

A Brief Ethnological Study of Magnolia Plantation, National Park Service

Explore these resources to learn how archeologists learn from animal bones in other places:

Illinois State Museum Reading Ancient Animal Remains

Faunal Remains and Feasting, Jamestown Rediscovery

Contact Information

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Last updated: August 1, 2019