Anthropology and Archeology in the Primary Grades



The Smithsonian's Anthropology Department defines anthropology as "the science that deals with the origins, physical characteristics, and cultural development of humankind


I. Elementary School Lesson Plan in Anthropology


To identify and understand Native American groups and cultures living in Oregon before Euro American contact and to understand how those groups were removed to reservations.

Students will:

  • Use maps, readings and classroom discussions to gain information about the cultures and regions of Oregon’s Native American peoples.
  • Identify the materials (natural resources) some Native Americans used to build their dwellings.
  • Learn how some of Oregon’s Native Americans obtained and prepared food.
  • Compare and contrast the ways in which some early Native American cultures lived and how those cultures live today.

Standards Met:
Geography Skills:

  • Understand how human activities are affected by the physical environment.

U.S. History:

  • Identify and understand the groups living in the Western Hemisphere before European exploration, their way of life, and the empires they developed.
  • Understand the impact of early European exploration on Native Americans and the land.

State and Local History:

  • Understand and interpret events, issues, and developments in Oregon history.
  • Identify significant people in the history of Oregon.
  • Understand the contributions of various people and cultures that have lived in the area that is now Oregon.

Social Science Analysis:

  • Gather, use and evaluate researched information to support analysis and conclusions.

Materials/Resources Needed:

Lesson Description:

Introduce topic, photographs and images of Native Americans in Oregon by dividing class into small groups to brainstorm responses to the following:

  • Consider the lives of Oregon Coast tribes in 1750. What materials did they use to build their dwellings? Where and how did they get their food? What tools did they need to: build dwellings? gather food? make clothing?
  • Allow class time (may take 2 or more lessons) to respond as a group.
  • Chart responses
  • Using a map of Oregon, show students areas where Native American Cultures lived.
  • Using suggested documents develop teacher “mini-talks” and questions for small group discussion that support lesson objectives.


Allow students to demonstrate their understanding by having them:

  • Create pictures of living conditions.
  • Draw maps showing areas populated by Native Americans, location of available natural resources, etc.
  • Write a letter to an eighteenth century Native American child of a particular tribe, asking questions based on what they have learned from this lesson plan.

Oregon History Project



II. Archaeology Lessons for Elementary Schoolteachers


“What would your garbage tell us about you?” asks Indiana State Museum education program coordinator Gail Brown.
Five elementary schoolteachers from around the region sort through accumulations of trash—fast food wrappers, empty yogurt cartons, dog food cans—in a classroom in the University of Notre Dame Department of Anthropology’s Reyniers Laboratory on the north end of campus.
Dog food can—can we infer a pet owner?
It’s all part of Project Archaeology, a workshop cosponsored by the anthropology department and the museum.
Earlier this summer, the teachers spent three days on campus learning the fundamentals of archaeology. They participated in an archaeological dig on a property in the “Sorinsville” neighborhood south of campus, led by Deb Rotman, assistant professional specialist in anthropology. They then returned to the lab to process and analyze their finds.
The teachers also had time to try a few other activities, like throwing spears with an atlatl, an ancient tool that increases the range and velocity of a throw.
The goal of the program is to teach elementary educators how to use archaeology in the classroom. But the larger goal is to teach the public to respect, protect and conserve archaeological sites.
The way archaeology is done in real life isn’t like “Indiana Jones,” Brown said. “It’s not just collecting things; it’s about collecting data.”
Why a lesson on garbage? Archaeologists often study garbage heaps, or middens, he points out. It’s a way for kids to understand how objects relate to people and their activities—3,000-year-old objects kids wouldn’t know how to interpret, Brown says.
This fall, the teachers will incorporate what they learned in the workshop into their lesson plans. Their fourth-through seventh-grade students will use observation, inference and hypothesis to understand what garbage—or tools, or artifacts—can tell us about a culture.
In the process of learning archaeological methods, students also will be developing other skills—gridding a site requires math and measuring skills, tree-ring dating and pollen analysis offer hands-on science lessons and discussion about climate change.
“It’s been a good experience,” says Cindy Young, a teacher at Prairie Vista Elementary School in Granger. “I liked the field excavation with Deb, going out and actually doing what we were talking about. And I thought it was neat how many math, science and reading connections there were with archaeology.”
Observation and inference apply to many subjects, she notes.
“I’ve gotten a lot of stuff I can take back to the classroom,” she says. “Lessons and real-life experience.”

- The College of Arts and Letters










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