Educators Smithsonian Education
Decoding the Past: The Work of Archaeologists
Lesson Plan 3

Puzzle Pieces


  • Identify how archaelogists use typology to interpret artifacts.
  • Interpret sample artifacts.
Social studies, science, language arts

1. Ask your students to imagine that they are expert archaeologists somewhere far in the future. Tell them that recent excavations have unearthed what appear to be several artifacts from the late twentieth or early twenty-first century. So far, no one has been able to identify the function and purpose of the artifacts. The field drawings and artifact descriptions have been turned over to the foremost experts (your students) for examination.

2. Give each student a copy of the Take-Home Page. Tell them that they will need to examine their collection of artifacts (at home, school, or a friend's house) to determine any similarities between their artifacts and those in the field drawings. (Be sure your students understand that the artifact drawings depict only pieces of larger objects, much as archaeologists might find.)

3. After your students have completed the Take-Home Page, ask them what they think each artifact is and what features of the field drawings or descriptions led them to their conclusions. (Explain that archaeologists use the term typology to describe the matching of recently uncovered artifacts with previously identified artifacts.) In some cases you may find that students may not have identified all of the artifacts correctly. Provide the correct answers with explanations as necessary.

4. Conclude the activity by telling your students that archaeologists often use typology to relatively date artifacts (especially pottery fragments). Stress that this is challenging work that requires years of specialized study. Note that archaeologists often only have fragments of artifacts to compare with other fragments, which may be thousands of years old.
Required Materials

Lesson Plan 3 (pdf)

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