Ancient Civilizations, Archeology, Historians
By Laura Marshall Lindsay, Ontario
November 2021

One day while teaching social studies a grade 4 student asked me a question that went something like this, “How do we know that the Egyptians did that? I mean if they didn’t write it down or it was in another language, how can we know what happened then?” At first I was taken aback but then my mind moved to this reaction; ‘Oh you beautiful critical thinker you!’ What a great question! I then felt like I really needed to talk about what a primary source is versus a secondary source and examples. The History Major in me was ready to impart the thrill of the mystery in looking back and allowing all of their questions to bubble forth. I knew that, for me, the most intriguing things about history were the artifacts but when I looked at them; it was never just the artifact itself that captivated me but the story behind it; and the story of its discovery. I found myself pondering on how to impart this excitement to a 9 year old. Archeology! Indiana Jones shouting, “This belongs in a museum!”, came to mind. Still, how do you get that feeling into the classroom?

I decided to recreate a ‘discovery’ of sorts by using affordable materials; breaking them, burying them and then allowing the students to ‘discover’ them. Using dollar store terra-cotta pots, I drew images from Ancient Civilizations that we had already studied in class: The Vikings, The Ancient Egyptians, The Ancient Greeks, The Chinese and Indigenous Canadian cultures. Each pot had at least five distinct images on it that either represented language, spirituality, or other culturally significant symbols that the students would have seen during their studies. Once completed, I put the pots into a brown bag and carefully using a hammer, broke them into pieces. Not too many little pieces but something that the students would be able to reassemble. I made sure each piece could be buried under about 5 cm of dirt. I spaced out the pieces in a cardboard box that would fit on a desk and placed them to ensure the bits were at various depths and spread over the entire bottom.

Using tools like brushes and palette knives to unearthed the pieces, students placed their discoveries onto a separate tray. Next: reassemble the parts and glue them together. The team work that happened with this task was exceptional. Students were holding pieces of clay pot together with sometimes three students holding onto bits of one pot. After they could see the symbols clearly, they were instructed to copy the images as best they could and each student was responsible for researching a symbol to determine its significance. After all symbols were identified and understood the group presented their findings to the class. All students were on task and interested in what they might find. There were shouts of excitement, “Our pot is Egyptian!”; “Look a rune! It’s Viking!” Fun and history became connected terms. Success didn’t come from a textbook, instead students completed their own successful dig, and pieced history back together.

Laura Marshall Lindsay, Ontario