Field Trips

Cultural Contributions

Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Science,Social Studies
State Standards:
Utah State Core Curriculum Topic, Social Studies Standard One: Students demonstrate the sequence of change in Utah over time.

In the classroom, students observe artifacts and discuss clues artifacts provide about the lives of people who lived near Moab in the past. On the field trip, students make their own pottery, cordage, and petroglyph replicas.

Essential Question: What can objects left behind teach us about the people who lived here long ago?

Utah State Core Curriculum Topic:
Social Studies Standard 2 Students will understand how Utah's history has been shaped by many diverse people, events, and ideas.  

Objective 1: Describe the historical and current impact of various cultural groups on Utah E: Explain the importance of preserving cultural prehistory and history, including archaeological sites and other historic sites and artifacts.


This program introduces students to the field of archaeology and its role in preserving our human past. Students experiment with making cordage, rock images, and pottery. Students learn how to enjoy archaeological sites without damaging them, and they are introduced to threats to preserving history, such as vandalism of archaeological sites and rock images.

Even though ancient peoples in this area grew corn, beans, and squash. They alsohunted animals and used wild plants for food and other needs.

Cordage, one example of an item made from wild plants, consists of several strands of fiber twisted together into a string or rope. Prehistorically, cordage was made from a variety of materials, depending on what plants were available in each region. For example, in Egypt, the papyrus plant was turned into both large ropes and fine string. Coir rope, made from unripe coconuts, is found in India. In China, hemp was common. In North America, the long plant stalk fibers of milkweed and dogbane, yucca leaf fibers, and juniper and sagebrush bark are common cordage materials. Ancient people also used human hair and animal sinew. Some archaeologists make replicas of artifacts to learn more about how they were made and how much time was required for their production. A ranger at Arches National Park spent two months making a pair of cordage sandals similar to those found in the area. Most cordage artifacts have been found in dry cave sites in the western United States. Although many are only small pieces of larger items, a net measuring 140 feet by 4 feet was found at Hogup Cave in northwestern Utah (Smith, Moe, Letts, & Peterson 1992, 133). In 2018, Archeologist Ben Bellorado studied thirteenth century artifacts on Cedar Mesa. During this period, sandals were often woven with a raised tread that left distinctive tracks. These impressions, similar to designs on pottery, are often also depicted in petroglyphs and kiva murals. Dr. Bellorado theorizes these patterns were clan symbols used to mark territories.

A petroglyph is a symbol carved into a rock surface by pecking or scraping. Petroglyphs can be found all around the world. The images on rocks may not be art and may include other types of meaning and information. For this reason, archaeologists now prefer the term rock images to rock art.

Although some images can be identified, such as bighorn sheep and sandal prints, interpreting petroglyphs can be difficult when they were made long ago by members of a culture different from our own. While modern tribal members can provide some information about their meanings, their insights also confirm images may have different meanings in different contexts and cultures, which reminds us cultures are dynamic and complex and change over time. Furthermore, some meanings were not meant to be known or understood by outsiders. Thus, it is not appropriate for us to interpret the meaning of images when we cannot be sure what they mean. Instead, archeologists record the style, location, and elements of images and examine similarities and differences to associate images with specific cultural groups and time periods.

Because of the durability of fired clay pottery, potsherds are one of the most common types of artifacts in the American Southwest. Note: Sherd is a term used to describe pottery pieces, while shard is a term used for other materials, such as glass or metal flakes. Pottery artifacts give insights into how ancient people cooked and stored food.

Through chemical analysis, lab technicians can determine the composition of the clay, which can tell us where the clay was sourced (where the pottery was made) which can help establish trade routes across wide regions. Pottery styles are distinctive to particular groups and changed through time, so pottery is helpful in determining both the age of a site and which group of people lived there.

For pottery to be fired properly, one needs both clay and temper mixed together. Clay is the basis for making the finished product. While clay is very fine-grained and malleable, if clay is not mixed with a temper, it will shrink too much during the firing process and break. A typical temper is sand, but ground up pot sherds were also used. The paint used for pottery designs is made from plant and mineral sources, sometimes both combined. It can be applied using natural paintbrushes such as yucca leaves. To get a shiny and smooth finish, the clay is polished using a smooth stone and rubbing it vigorously across the surface of the clay creation. This is often done both before and after paint is applied. To fire pottery, you need to heat creations to over 700 degrees Celsius. This can be achieved by making an extremely hot fire on a windless day and building a protective shield around the main heat using larger logs and old ceramic pieces. The firing process removes water molecules from the clay, making the piece stronger so it can be used for its intended purpose. Pottery fired at higher temperatures will have a higher-pitched tone when knocked lightly against another object or flicked by a fingernail.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 protects cultural and natural resources in the US. Since then, other efforts to protect these nonrenewable resources have been put in place, such as the Hague Convention (1954), NHPA section 106 (1966), ARPA (1979), NAGPRA (1990), and many others. The 1979 Archeological Resources Protection Act prohibits disturbance of any archeological sites more than 100 years old on any federal lands. A first offender of this act may be fined up to $250,000 and could spend up to two years in jail. A similar 1990 state law protects state lands. The state law allows digging on private land with permission of a landowner. Without permission, digging on private land may bring penalties similar to those on federal land. Disturbing a human burial is a felony offense.

Pieces of the Past

Essential Question
: Why is it important to leave artifacts where they are found?

Materials: photographs of archeological artifacts and sites; “Visit with Respect” (YouTube - send to teachers beforehand), special object to discuss (if possible borrow artifacts from Museum of Moab)

1) Write archaeology on the board and discuss its meaning. A simple definition of archaeology is the study of people from the past. Tell students they are going to be archaeologists. Explain that archaeologists use three steps/tools to discover more about objects: observation, inferences, and questions. Tell students your teaching partner has brought in a special object from their past (example: Harry Potter costume glasses) and show everyone the object. Ask students to make observations. Discuss inferences students could make, such as if the object was used for eating or hunting, or if the object was used by one person or many people. Encourage students to ask questions about the objects. Caution students about basing their inferences on stereotypes which can be inaccurate. Explain students are lucky enough to have your teaching partner here to answer our questions, but that’s not always the case for archaeologists. Ask if students think hundreds of years from now a stranger might learn something or infer something about their lives by making observations of their objects. Ask if they would learn more by examining several objects from each student’s past? Would their inferences be more accurate? Relate students’ objects to archaeological artifacts and introduce the importance of saving these artifacts or “pieces of the past.” Explain that on the upcoming field trip, students will explore pieces of the past from the people who lived in this area a long time ago. (5 min)

2) Tell students you have some photographs of archeological objects taken by Art Coach in Southern Utah. Show one to the class. Ask students to describe things they observe. Next, ask narrow questions to help students make inferences about people from looking at those objects. Students should describe the evidence they observe which supports their claim. Divide students into groups of two or three which supports their claim. Divide students into groups of two or three and pass out photos for groups to discuss for several minutes and then switch photos. If available, have students also walk around the classroom to discuss artifacts you brought. Repeat for as many photographs/ artifacts as time allows, showing a variety of time periods. Explain that talking to descendant communities is important for making inferences about artifacts. Ask students who we could ask about some of the more recent artifacts and explain who we can ask about the ancient artifacts. (10 min)

3) If time, show the “Visit with respect” video. After the video presentation, have students list ways we can enjoy archaeological sites without damaging or disturbing them. (10 min) Review the items students need to bring to school on the day of their field trip and describe the hike. Remind students people come from all over the world to see Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is used to represent Moab and Utah in lots of ways, like on our license plate or on billboards. (5 min)

(Smith, Moe, Letts, & Peterson, 1992, 132-135)

Essential Question: How did prehistoric people use cordage in everyday life?

Materials: Damp raffia, cut into 12 to 15 inch lengths (two per student, tied in a knot); cordage replica sandals and/or picture of cordage artifacts; picture of sandal petroglyphs; picture of a yucca; cloth cordage model; 12 to 15 inch lengths of yucca fiber (two per student); yucca leaves, sagebrush bark and/or juniper bark; Treading in the past: Sandals of the Anasazi (Kankainen, 1995); Examples of fibers flipchart; binder clips; hand sanitizer, scissors. 

1) Show students the cordage replica sandals and pictures of ancient sandals. Ask students to describe how these shoes were different from the shoes they are wearing. Ask students where they purchased their sneakers and how long they think it took to make them. Remind students people lived here long before Ferrol and Esther, and those people wore shoes like these sandals. Experiential archeologists try to learn about the past by replicating how things were made. Tell students it took a ranger two months to make these sandals. The first step to making them was making cordage. Discuss with students how making their own shoes in this way would affect their lives. (2-3 min)

2) Ask students if folks all over the world have the same shoes as them, or shoes with the same tread. Have a few students step in the sand and discuss the tracks their shoes leave. Encourage students to imagine everyone they know lives in the same area, and they all make their own shoes with the same tread pattern. What would finding a different tread pattern mean? Show students pictures of sandal treads. If family groups had unique treads, would these patterns help reveal the presence of people from other family groups? Archeologists have found sandals with tread near to places where rock images and murals depict the same patterns and have inferred these patterns identified groups. Discuss whether we would have learned these things if the sandals had been taken without being studied. Why might people want to mark their territory? Ask if people still mark their territories or wear clothing that identifies them as part of a group. What about the big G on the cliff wall? What about wearing red devil clothes to sports events? In some ways, we are similar to the folks who lived here long ago. Discuss how these similarities might affect our inferences about the past in both accurate and inaccurate ways. (3-5 min)

3) Explain that the Ancestral Puebloans often used the fibers of the yucca plant to make cordage. Cordage is like a single Lego that can be combined with more cordage to make large things such as rope, nets, sandals, and baskets. Show a picture of the yucca plant, and pass around a yucca leaf. Discuss how the yucca leaf is prepared to make into cordage. Show students other plants used to make cordage as well. Today, students are going to become experimental archeologists. (2-3 min)

4) Tell students they are going to start with raffia, because raffia is often thicker and easier to twist. Use the model to demonstrate how to make cordage. Distribute a piece of raffia to each student. Define fiber as a slender, threadlike strand or string. Cordage, on the other hand, consists of several strands of fiber twisted together. Have students hold their fingers like lobster claws and demonstrate the steps to make cordage. (3-5 min)

5) If they have the time and ability, let students try to make cordage with yucca fiber. As students make cordage, discuss their impressions of daily life of prehistoric people. In what ways might the daily life of the Ancestral Puebloans be similar to students’ daily lives? In what ways could it have been different? (15-20 min)

(adapted from Smith, Moe, Letts, & Peterson, 1992, 151-153)

Objectives: Why should we preserve petroglyph panels?

Materials: copies of symbols cards; quarter; scratchboards and styluses(one per student).

1) Gather students around the petroglyph panel. Give students guidelines for observing the rock images without touching. Give students time to observe the panel and briefly talk with each other about their observations of the images and the questions they have about them. Ask closed-ended questions about elements of the petroglyphs, such as what types of animals are present and which animals are featured most often. Discuss specific inferences archeologists might make about the images, such as the presence of horses, indicating the images were made after the arrival of the Spanish. Remind students we cannot make inferences about the images’ meaning, but we can ask the decedents of the people who made them for more information. For example, the panel on the right is made by the ancestors of the Ute people. Compare the Ute panel with the other panel, and ask if students think they were made by the same culture. Read the text on the sign and discuss. Point out the reasons behind penalties for harming artifacts on public lands. (5-7 min)

2) Gather students in the teaching area. Remind students we don’t know exactly what the images on the rock mean. Discuss how easily symbols can be misinterpreted and how symbols can change over time. Use the symbol cards to test our knowledge of symbols in our own culture. Discuss how the symbol for amphitheater has changed over time. If symbols from our own culture are difficult to interpret, imagine symbols from other cultures. For example, the picture on George Washington’s head on a quarter is next to the words “in god we trust.” Ask if they were aliens from another planet, and they read these words, who would they think the image is? Because this symbol is from our culture, we know the picture is George Washington. Explain that although we don’t know why the rock images were created, they can still teach us who was here in the past, where they were, and when they were here. For example, we can pick out types of animals, like horses, which can help us determine the time period they were made. Ask if modern tribes might make more accurate inferences of images their ancestors left behind than people who are not related. (2-3 min)

3) Explain to students they will be using symbols to create some of their own petroglyphs. Give students time to remember an important event or object in their lives and what symbols they might use to depict it. Instruct students how to use the scratchboards. Remind students they cannot put letters or numbers on their panels, and the stories must be school appropriate. Instruct them not to tell others what they are drawing. Give each student a scratchboard (a “rock wall”) and a stylus (an “antler”) to draw their story. (10-15 min)

4) When students finish their creations, have them present to the group. Ask the other students to try to make inferences about the message in each petroglyph panel. Explain that trying to make inferences about actual rock images could be just as wrong as some of our guesses of our friend’s rock images. Discuss how kids who do not know each other well have a harder time guessing the story. Compare this phenomenon to people today trying to decipher ancient petroglyphs without talking to people from cultures more similar to those who made them (for example, their decedents) to clear up misconceptions. (3-5 min)

5) Discuss how students would feel if someone came along and threw rocks at their rock images, wrote their name on it, or defaced it in any other way. Relate their feelings to how archaeologists, decedents, and others feel when they see a site that has been vandalized. Remind students defacing ancient rock images is against the law.  (2-3 min)

6) Collect scratch boards and styluses.

Essential Question: What can we learn about ancient people from examining their broken dishes?

Materials: artifacts borrowed from a museum; Pottery flipbook; clay; tarp; one box per day to take clay home; 10 styluses

1) Place ancient potsherds in the center of the circle on a tarp so everyone can see all the potsherds. Ask students what they notice about the potsherds and encourage students to ask questions about the sherds. Allow students to pick up a piece or two to examine up close. Discuss how most of the potsherds in the pile were collected by uneducated visitors and, therefore, tell us nothing new about the past. Have a student point to the potsherd with numbers on it. Discuss how the number corresponds to archeological data which can tell us many things about this sherd and other similar potsherds. Explain how archaeologists used to collect and carefully document artifacts. However, they rarely collect them today. Give students information about potsherds. Include examples of inferences made from studying pottery which has helped archeologists understand the Ancestral Puebloan peoples, such as where they moved and who they traded with. Discuss Comb Ridge and how pottery suggests the people on either side were different cultural groups. Ask students if we could have learned these things if potsherds had been removed by random people. Let students point out relevant potsherds as you talk. Use the Pottery flipbook in coordination to the potsherds to describe relevant designs, shapes, and uses. (10 min)

2) Demonstrate how to make coil pottery and how to blend the coils using fingers or smooth stones. Distribute clay. Help students to make miniature pots. (20 min)

3) While students are working, discuss the process of making pottery. Include: finding and collecting the clay, forming the pottery, and firing the pottery.

4) If time, have students show their pots and describe different ways they might use them if they lived in this area long ago. Students should carve their initials in the bottom of their pots before placing them in the box.

Collect unused clay and styluses.
All Mixed Up
(adapted from Smith, Moe, Letts, & Peterson 1992, 22-23.)

Essential Question: Why shouldn’t artifacts be removed from archaeological sites?

Materials: 8 plastic containers filled with sand and 4 quasi historical objects; 8 extra buckets, paintbrushes; chopsticks; scoops; 10 magnetic pictures of modern and historical objects; dustpan and brush for cleanup.

Setup: Arrange the boxes in the learning center so groups at each table have different time periods

1) Review the definition of archaeology and the role of an archaeologist. Review what we learned on the field trip about artifacts from ancient times, as well as what they observed/ inferred about life at Wolfe Ranch. Build a cross-section of three soil layers on the board. First, place pictures of artifacts (i.e. pottery) from the Ancestral Puebloan period at the bottom and write “Ancient”. Explain how artifacts get covered up by debris or sediment over time. Then show a picture of the horseshoe and discuss how artifacts from the “ranching” time period tend to look old and rusted. Finally, show artifacts from our current “Modern” time period and place these on top. Discuss where on the cross-section older and younger artifacts are located. (3-5 min)

2) Explain that archeologists typically do not dig up artifacts unless a new road or building might damage a site. When digging is necessary, show how archeologists carefully dig through layers of time. Mix up some of the artifacts as if someone was digging in the site and remove some, and describe how this redistribution would change our interpretation of the past. (3-5 min)

3) Demonstrate how archeologists carefully remove small layers of sand at a time by brushing the sand into the small shovel and pouring it into the extra container. Tell students each team is going to receive a box with one layer of an archeological dig site in the learning center. Bring one box and set of tools into the classroom to demonstrate the method in front of the class. When they get their box, they will use the tools provided to excavate objects using the proper archeological methods demonstrated. Objects they find should be placed on the lid of the box with the chopsticks. Students should not touch the sand with their hands—only use tools. After students find their objects, they need to interpret something about the person/people who used them, infer the time period of each object, and determine if their section of the archeological dig reflects multiple time periods and thus has been tampered with. Invite students to do a pair share with the other group at their table and to examine the artifacts found in the other “dig sites”. Ask students if they think their layer would have been above or below the other groups. Have students place objects and sand back in their boxes, sweep up leftover sand on the tables, and return to their classroom. (15 minutes)

4) Introduce the concept of a timeline or chronology, by relating it to a numbers timeline. Draw the timeline for Wolfe Ranch/ Moab. Pass out pictures of artifacts and have students add these to the board. Discuss how sites that have been tampered with could give archeologists an inaccurate idea of the timeline. (5-7 Minutes)

Box key – orange/ranching, pink/ancient, green/modern, blue/ mixed 


Last updated: October 25, 2022