Educators Smithsonian Education
Decoding the Past: The Work of Archaelogists
Introduction - The Puzzle of the Past - Site Seeing - Digging in the Dirt - Interpreting and Evidence - Decoding the Past

Whether you're ten or one hundred years old, you have a sense of the past — the human perception of the passage of time, as recent as an hour ago or as far back as a decade ago. We are all explorers of this past, seeking the meaning of today from what happened yesterday. The past stretches far beyond our own experiences; it takes its shape from those who have come before us. The collective memories of our parents and grandparents provide us with an image of more than two generations of human triumphs and tragedies. In fact, the lens of history allows us to view more than thirty centuries of human experience chronicled by a multitude of men and women.
As valuable as they are, however, written accounts cannot present a complete record of human history. Documents speak only of literate societies and are often incomplete. These records are blind to the thousands of years of human experience before the invention of writing. To recover this vibrant human past without written history or memory, we must turn to archaeology — the study of material remains to learn about past human experiences.
Archaeology and its potential to increase our understanding of the distant and the recent human past have long been cornerstones of the research done at the Smithsonian Institution and are the subject of this issue of Art to Zoo . The photographs of Smithsonian archaeologists and activities that follow encourage your students to think about how human-made objects and other indicators of human life can enrich our understanding of peoples both past and present. You can use the lesson plans as part of either a world cultures curriculum or any social studies unit that explores methods of understanding the past.
Required Materials

Lesson Plan 1 (pdf)

Lesson Plan 2 (pdf)

Lesson Plan 3 (pdf)
Australopithecus Skull (cast)

Australopithecus Skull (cast)

Next Page: The Puzzle of the Past

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