Academic journal article The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences

Excavating the Past: An Archaeology Simulation for the Elementary Classroom

Academic journal article The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences

Excavating the Past: An Archaeology Simulation for the Elementary Classroom

Article excerpt


"X" marks the spot! Hidden treasures! Pirates! Lost civilizations! Adventure! and Danger! This is what excites students about archaeology. The idea of finding the unknown or a lost treasure is an excellent motivator when starting a lesson on archaeology. However, most notions students hold regarding archaeology are misconceptions brought on by Hollywood films like Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and Tomb Raider. Nonetheless, archaeology is important and interesting. Archaeology is a branch of anthropology that studies the material remains of past societies. Through the study of material remains archaeologists 1) obtain a chronology of the past, 2) reconstruct the many ways of life that no longer exist, and 3) give some understanding of why human culture has changed through time. The following three questions were posed to elementary students in an attempt to understand the evolution of human culture, society and technology. What is archaeology? What does an archaeologist do? Why is archaeology important?

Archaeology is commonly interwoven into history courses, but rarely highlighted as a separate area of study (Bender & Smith, 2000). Despite the lack of attention given to archaeology, historians would be at a loss without it. Archaeology related content and skills are important and should be discussed when teaching social studies according to the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (2010) created by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). Of the ten thematic strands outlined in these standards, both Culture and Time, Continuity and Change illustrate how teaching archaeology related content and skills meet the pedagogical expectations outlined by NCSS. Within the strand of Culture, students are expected to understand how human culture may change and how humans differ between cultural groups. An archaeology dig simulation can help students accomplish this standard by providing hands on experience with the content. Moreover, Time, Continuity and Change require students to explore the following questions: what happened in the past? How do we know about the past? How was life in the past? These questions are the basis for archaeological digs and provide a clear need for the study of archaeology. In the event that a teacher needs additional justification for teaching archaeology related content and skills, individuals should check the approved curriculum frameworks of the state in which they teach.


Taking elementary students to an excavation site is costly. Additionally, it may be difficult to find an archaeological site that will allow elementary-age students to participate in the dig. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to help educators explore and encourage the use of simulations and the teaching of archaeology related content and skills in the elementary classroom. More specifically, the purpose of this article is to provide educators with a classroom tested, practical, cost effective and hands-on archaeology dig simulation lesson activity for the elementary classroom.

Archaeology Dig Simulation

Archaeology can be incorporated into a variety of social studies units. Many common units that archaeology related content and skills are incorporated are units on Native Americans, Incas, Aztecs, Mayas, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and/or ancient Egypt.

Archaeological research provides students with research skills and encourages higher order thinking skills such as analysis and synthesis. Additionally, students participate in reflective thinking as they analyze new discoveries (Gandy, 2007). Archaeological excavations encourage the scientific method and require students to formulate hypothesis, analyze data, formulate conclusions and keep detailed accounts of their findings (Geiger, 2004).

The archaeology dig simulation was developed to simulate an archaeological dig. Using simulations can actively engage students and help make the content more meaningful and relevant (Russell & Byford, 2006; Passe & Passe, 1985). …

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