Lesson Plan: Introduction to Archaeology for Kids

We have a membership to the Discovery Science Center here in southern California which recently had an exhibit about Indiana Jones and the science of archaeology. Our visit to that exhibit made my five-year-old excited about archaeology, so we decided to do our own study of archaeology at home.

As a starting point, we read up some more about what archaeology really is all about. We loved the picture book Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke--This book might be a bit long for young kids but if your kids are interested in the topic, they will find this a fun and informative introduction to archaeology. Also, while it is written in a way that kids can enjoy and understand, I still learned new things as an adult. We also read introductory pages about archaeology from a history encyclopedia.

After reading about archaeology, we went on on archaeological dig in our backyard. First, we set up a grid with stakes and caution tape in our sandbox (I had leftover caution tape from our construction-themed birthday party, and we had a lot of wooden stakes sitting around from my husband's work on our yard). We created a very simple grid with just four cells. Then my kids dug in the sandbox and we made notes of what we found in each cell. (I didn't prepare ahead of time by burying things because I just let my kids dig up toys that they had previously buried by themselves just in their day-to-day play). If you don't have a sandbox, you could also bury a few objects in a patch of plain dirt that you don't mind having disturbed. If you were to set up the dig in advance, you might even have layers of items with the "oldest" items being at the bottom. Here is an image of my son's findings in our archaeological dig.
He didn't draw items to scale or make any notes other than drawing pictures of what he found and which area he found them in. But I thought that if I did this again I would have him go further and measure the sizes of each item to incorporate some math into the activity.

My son then had the idea to create his own "radiocarbon dating" machine (we had read about these machines in our books about archaeology), so he set up some chairs and tinker toys and pretended to study the "artifacts" in his machine.

We didn't have a special snack when we studied archaeology, but our Dinosaur Lesson Plan had a fun edible snack while doing an "paleontology dig" and I think this lesson plan that involves a simulated archaeological dig with a 3 layer cake sounds so cool! They would be fun ways to incorporate a snack and a lesson in one!

We had fun playing this online "Tools of the Trade" game from the American Museum of Natural History website. There are more fun activities to check out on that website as well.

Field Trip
As I said--it was our field trip to the science museum that first sparked our interest in archaeology. But we finished up by going to the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum in Los Angeles--which is a working excavation site right in the middle of our big city--though technically this fits within paleontology, not archaeology as they have excavated prehistoric animals there--nothing human. Still the way the pit was set up in grids and the way the "fishbowl" lab was set up was exactly as we had read about in our archaeology book, so my kids loved seeing that!

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