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Prehistoric Mississippi: Some New Perspectives lesson plan


It is important to help students continually clarify their understanding of historical events and periods as new information and insights become available. The picture that usually emerges as students consider prehistoric peoples is one of a very primitive society. In this lesson, students will be encouraged to re-evaluate their “pictures” in light of some new perspectives presented by Samuel Brookes in “Prehistoric Mississippi: Some New Perspectives.”


Students will:

  • realize the value of artifacts;
  • re-evaluate their understanding of prehistoric Mississippi after examining new archaeological data and artifacts;
  • locate areas of archaeological interest on a map of Mississippi.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, and 4


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12



On the board or overhead, write in large print the following terms: MOUND, PENNY, BEADS. Ask if students can determine what, if anything, the terms have in common. Ask them to think in terms of artifacts and guide them in writing a definition of artifact. (Allow them to check a dictionary.) To help them understand how artifacts can be used to understand culture, tell them the following scenario: You will pretend to be aliens from outer space who have discovered a barren Earth 200,000 years in the future. You have computers which can instantly translate languages. As you look around the landscape, you discover a large supply of pennies. Working with a small group, you and your fellow aliens will determine all you can about the people who made the penny. You must be able to justify each “discovery,” using only the information gleaned from the coin. Distribute a penny to each group or each student — usually students will be able to supply enough for the classroom.

Note to teacher: Facts might include the following:

  • Had religion—had an alphabet
  • Used machines—wore clothing
  • Knew how to write—were hairy
  • Had a calendar—were bilingual
  • Were free—had a number system
  • Knew metallurgy—were united from parts
  • Were losers (they lost the penny!!)


1. Initiate a class discussion in which students share their findings. Afterwards, have them write a paragraph explaining how artifacts can be used to learn about different cultures. They will turn this in for credit.

2. Continue the lesson by explaining to students that new technologies and new discoveries often lead to a re-interpretation of previously found artifacts. To illustrate this, ask students to actively participate in the remaining activities of the lesson.

3. Distribute to each student one copy of the “checklist” of perceptions regarding prehistoric people. (A copy is included at the end of the plan.) Ask students to check any statements with which they agree. Teacher can take up the lists or ask students to place them in notebooks.

4. Students will copy from the board the following HEADINGS for a chart they will complete as they read the Mississippi History Now article. From the board or overhead, have the students write the following information in the first column, leaving enough space to write information in the two additional columns as they read.


a. The earliest people in the New World crossed from Asia across the Bering Strait.

b. The extinction of large mammals was caused by heavy hunting by these early people.

c. Because of a hunting/gathering lifestyle, there was little time for mound-building.

d. There was little time for artistic expression.

NEW PERSPECTIVE (students to fill in)

EVIDENCES, if available (students to fill in)

5. Place students in small groups so that they can share their findings.

6. In a large-group discussion, determine that students have a good understanding of the material.

7. Distribute outline maps of Mississippi and ask students to prepare an illustrated map of Prehistoric Mississippi, including as much information and as many sites as can be found in the Mississippi History Now article. Encourage them to include all the necessary elements of a good map: title, directional aid, scale, and legend. Ask students to take their maps home to share with their families what they have learned.


1. Distribute a second copy of the checklist to each student and ask them to respond, based on their new learnings. Have them compare both their sheets in order to re-evaluate their understanding of prehistoric times in Mississippi.

2. Have students compose a well-constructed paragraph detailing how their perspective of life in prehistoric Mississippi has changed.


  1. Group participation in artifact activity and follow-up paragraph
  2. Chart completion
  3. Participation in large-group discussion
  4. Map activity
  5. Paragraph assessing learning


1. Students may enjoy additional examination of artifacts. Allow them to access the Reed Farmstead Archaeological website to click on ARTIFACTS, then WHAT IS IT? for a “quote“guessing”quote” activity. Teacher may also want to bring an object to class with which students are unfamiliar (an old tool, perhaps) and distribute an Artifact Analysis Worksheet available from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (accessed September 2007) for students to complete.

2. If there is a local historical museum, a trip to examine its artifacts would be interesting.

Additional resources

Borrow the video entitled “Indians of the Eastern Woodlands” available from Mississippi History on Loan, 601-961-4724 at the Manship House Museum, 420 East Fortification Street, Jackson, MS 39202-2340.

Perceptions of prehistoric peoples

Check any you believe illustrate life in prehistoric Mississippi.

_____1. The earliest inhabitants of the New World came from Asia by crossing the Bering Strait.
_____2. They over-hunted the large mammals of the time, thus causing them to become extinct.
_____3. They were here many years before the construction of the Egyptian pyramids.
_____4. Their lifestyle consisted primarily of hunting and gathering.
_____5. They had very little time for artistic expression.
_____6. What art they did produce was crude, made by chipping with a rock or other hard material.
_____7. Mounds they constructed were primarily for safety purposes.
_____8. They had primitive, undeveloped, religious beliefs.
_____9. They had no trade networks with other groups because they were hesitant to confront other warring tribes.
____10. “Governments” in the tribes exerted very little control.
____11. Very few artifacts dated from prehistoric times have been found in Mississippi.

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