Investigating Artifacts: Making Masks, Creating Myths, Exploring Midden

Grades K—6

This unit presents three intriguing activities related to anthropology, archaeology, and diverse Native American and world cultures. Students are immediately involved, hands-and-minds-on, as they sort and classify material objects found on a walk, then make masks from those materials. They create stories to explain natural phenomena and learn how ancient peoples used folklore to explain and represent the natural world.


In a very personal introduction to archaeology, students learn that a midden, in this context, is a term for deposits of artifacts earlier peoples left behind. Teams of students then sift through "artifacts" in shoe-box middens, learning the skills required for excavation, map-drawing, and curatorship. A major scientific thread in all activities relates to inferences that can be drawn from varying evidence.

  1. Uncovering the Past or What’s Hidden in the Midden In advance set up a Midden for your students to excavate. Your student will do the work of archaeologists investigating artifacts from the past by “excavating” artifacts, investigate their meaning, and then give them to a museum to be preserved. 
  2. Putting Together Clues from the Past Your student looks at the various “artifacts” he collected and brainstorms ways that the objects may have been used by the people who lived at the site hundreds or thousands of years ago. 
  3. Real Archaeological Dig Experiences: Sometimes you can find a local digging site in which your student can use real materials and possibly dig up real artifacts. 

Archeological Dig at London Town Public House, Maryland

Source: Investigating Artifacts: Making Masks, Creating Myths, Exploring Middens Written by Katharine Barrett, Lincoln Bergman, Gigi Dornfest, Linda Lipner, and Carolyn Willard

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