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Archaeology and Artifacts

Driving or Multi-dimensional Question:

How can we, as Archeologists, use scientific ideas and modern technology to solve problems concerning the environmental preservation of artifacts?

Unit Summary:

In 1974, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began hiring its own full-time archeology staff. The goal was for this staff to preserve and document the historic sites and structures owned or impacted by TVA. Today, TVA manages over 11,500 archaeological sites. These sites include many dams, powerhouses, and numerous historic structures. TVA works with local groups and communities to protect archaeological sites to preserve them for future generations.

Human beings are one of the greatest threats to historic objects. Many objects are damaged because people vandalize or touch them. In this PBL, students will focus on human impact on archaeological sites and devise an action plan to protect these sites.

Hook Event:

Watch TVA Archaeologist video

TVA oversees some 11,500 archaeological sites across the country. Erin Pritchard, an archaeological specialist with TVA, says it is a constant challenge to deal with illegal excavating and looting of artifacts on these sites. (Video by J. Miles Cary/New Sentinel)

Read more about Senior Archaeological Specialist, Erin Pritchard and the Valley’s Legacy.

Culminating Event:

As archeologists, students will develop a plan of suggested actions, based on evidence, to show how humans can protect archeological sites in their area.


Science Standards:

Research, test, re-test, and communicate a design to solve a problem.
Identify how scientific discoveries lead to new and improved technologies.

Math Standards:

Solve real-world problems involving the multiplication of fractions and mixed numbers by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem.

ELA and Other Standards:

Social Studies Practice
Gather information from a variety of primary and secondary sources, including:
• Printed materials
• Graphic representations
• Artifacts
• Media and technology sources

Daily Activities

For more information on this lesson please  see the Lesson Resources below.

ActivitiesDescription Resources and Materials

Activity One 

Archaeology is the study of people and artifacts from ancient times. Archaeology provides us with the opportunity to learn about past cultures through the study of artifacts, animal bones, and historical structures. Studying various artifacts provides insight and allows us to piece together history.

What is an Archaeologist? What does and Archaeologist do?

Learn to think like an archaeologist by researching the career expectations of an archaeologist.

What education is required to be an archaeologist? How long does it take to become an archaeologist? How much do archaeologists make a year? What does and archaeologists do on a daily basis?


Hook Activity:

TVA Archaeologist video


Erin Pritchard video


Activity Two

What Can We Learn from Artifacts?

Students will work in teams to determine what artifacts are, how they are discovered, and what information can be learned from them. Students will use trash to learn about people today, much like archaeologists use ancient “trash” to gain insight into people’s lives in the past.

Archaeologists dig to look for clues about life in the past. Ancient trash can tell a lot about the past. Long ago, people buried their trash in pits. Objects that don’t decay give a lot of insight into an ancient civilization.

Spread out the newspaper or plastic on the floor or a table. Put on rubber gloves. Take the trash out one piece at a time and place it on the newspaper/plastic. Make note of the trash and what kind of story it could tell about the person/family disposing of the trash.

Rubber gloves

-Trash can filled with garbage

-Newspaper or plastic

Activity Three

Artifact Ethics

Students will work in groups to create an action plan regarding site and artifact protection after exploring the Tennessee Division of Archaeology website.


Have students examine their own values and views about archaeological site protection. Each group should list possible actions they could take regarding the site and artifact protection. Create a multimedia presentation outlining their Artifacts Ethics Action Plan.


Tennessee Division of Archaeology

Technology Integration: Technology is embedded and integrated throughout this PBL by conducting research to gain background knowledge. Students will also use technology to present their “action plan.”

Community PartnersContribution to Learning ExperienceContact Information

Erin Dunsmore, TVA Archaeological Specialist

Guest speaker


[email protected]
Citizen Archivist

Join the National Archives and Records Administration to help transcribe its vast historical records.
Archaeological Institute of AmericaSkype an Archaeologist 

Capstone Presentation:

As an archeologist, develop a plan of suggested actions, based on evidence, to show how humans can protect archeological sites in your area.

Lesson Resources