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1 — Using archaeological evidence to imagine the past

Silver plate depicting a woman on horse back

Above: Ancient Roman silver plate in the Hermitage Museum in Russia, public domain image, no copyright

This sequence introduces students to the topic of archaeology and helps them to identify and reflect on the challenges archaeologists, historians and authors face when using artefacts as a basis to describe a historical period.

The sequence will also orientate students to some of the important conceptual understandings which underpin the unit, namely the relationship between archaeological evidence, historians’ interpretations of the evidence, and the role and responsibility of the author who ‘imagines’ the past. New vocabulary will be introduced to students, which, depending on their prior knowledge and experiences, may need to be taught explicitly.

Introduction: What does an archaeologist do?

Show students the job profile of an archaeologist on the Australian Goverment website Job Outlook. Find an appropriate clip that shows an archaeologist digging a site (via YouTube) or use a clip from an archaeology documentary such as ‘Time team’, ‘Digging for the Truth’ or ‘Into the unknown’.

Activity 1: How archaeologists analyse artefacts to gain information about people who used them

Inform the students that for this activity they are in role as archaeologists 300 years in the future. On a recent dig, a number of artefacts were uncovered, clustered in different locations. 

In groups, students receive a collection of artefacts (see Resources), which they analyse in order to try to find out about the people who might have owned them and how these people lived. Model the activity by choosing one artefact as an example and jointly answering questions in order to analyse the artefact using the Clues from artefacts worksheet. On completion of the activity, groups provide oral reports about their artefacts and the analysis they carried out.  ACDSEH001,   ACDSEH029,   ACELA1537

Activity 2: What can a collection of artefacts reveal about their owner?

Choose one group of artefacts and a worksheet students have completed. Lead a discussion about what the collection of artefacts as a cluster might reveal about the person who owned and used them. Model an oral (or written, if your students need extra support) factual description of the person. Include information such as age, occupation, home, hobbies or activities. Students then independently write a description of the person who might have owned the objects they found, using the Imagining the person behind the artefacts worksheet.  ACDSEH029ACELY1725

Activity 3: Why is it challenging to recreate a past from only artefacts?

After completing Activity 2, students jointly or independently complete the PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) worksheet to analyse the challenges associated with the task.

Student reflective journal

Since this will be the students’ first entry in their Student journals, spend some time discussing its purpose and format. (Download the full version of the journal and save it on your desktop or hard drive.)

Refer to the learning intention and success criteria outlined at the start of the sequence, and demonstrate how they can use the rubric at the bottom of the journal page to match their responses against the success criteria. If students are unfamiliar with keeping reflective journals, model some responses based on student input.

Students should spend 5–10 minutes responding to the reflection questions for this sequence, either in written form or verbally. Then either the student, a peer or you should mark their responses against the success criteria to monitor their understanding and progress.