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Archaeology and Prehistoric Mississippi lesson plan


Archaeology is a growing field today because of the high level of interest in the field and because of laws that prevent construction projects from destroying an accidentally discovered site until studied or evaluated by an archaeologist. It is essential for members of our society to be knowledgeable about the field of archaeology and its ability to help us understand the past. As we continue to develop our natural environment, archaeology will be called upon to help evaluate undiscovered historic sites. The field of archaeology can help us develop not only an appreciation for the past as well as the present, but also evaluate the need for future change.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3 and 4.


Grades 7 through 12.


Mississippi History Now article, “Archaeology and Prehistoric Mississippi”

Butcher paper


Colored pencils

Construction paper

Glue and scissors

Plain letter size paper and/or notebook paper

Transparency, transparency pen and overhead projector or chalk and chalkboard

One of the following Mississippi History on Loan videos which are appropriate for junior high and adult:

“Seeking The First Americans” 1980 — 58 minutes

“Lost In Time” 1983 — 60 minutes

“The Early Americans” n.d. — 41 minutes

“Myths And Moundbuilders” 1981 — 58 minutes

“Indians Of The Eastern Woodlands” 1995 — 60 minutes


Students will:

define the following terms: artifacts, ceramics, lithics, ecofacts, features, context, excavation and prehistory.

describe the characteristics of the four prehistoric periods.

explain why archaeology is necessary in the study of prehistoric periods.

create a diorama of one of the prehistoric periods.

present an oral report.

compose a job description for an archaeologist.


Prior to the lesson on archaeology and prehistoric times, the teacher will instruct each student to bring an artifact from their home. The artifact chosen by each student should represent something about the student’s lifestyle. The teacher may also bring artifacts to class instead of requesting that students bring one from home. The teacher will ask for student volunteers to present the artifact they brought from home and explain what it means about their life or question students about the teacher-presented artifact. The teacher will ask the class how future generations would know the information they shared about the artifacts if there were no written records. The teacher will then explain why the field of archaeology is significant in understanding the past.



Have the students read the Mississippi History Now article, “Archaeology and Prehistoric Mississippi,” prior to class.


The teacher will use an overhead transparency or the chalkboard to facilitate a class discussion on the four prehistoric periods listed in the Mississippi History Now article. The teacher can use a chart or web format in order to record student responses.


The teacher will distribute the worksheet for the Mississippi History Now article. The worksheet created by David Morgan, the author of the Mississippi History Now article, can be found at the end of this lesson plan. The students can be allowed to work with a partner for this portion of the lesson. As the students complete the worksheet, instruct the partners to explain what makes the false statements incorrect.


The teacher will ask for student volunteers to share their answers with the class. If a statement is false, the student will be asked to explain why the answer is incorrect.


The teacher will show one of the Mississippi History On Loan videos. Ordering information to request one of the videos can be found at the end of this lesson plan. The teacher will have students record notes while viewing the video. Several of these videos not only give excellent information on the culture of prehistoric people, but they also show how important an archaeologists is to the study of prehistory. The teacher will ask student volunteers to share important points addressed in the video as well as the importance of archaeology to the study of the past.


The students will be instructed to illustrate one of the four prehistoric periods in a poster format or in a diorama. The students can be assigned or allowed to choose groups of three for this portion of the assignment. The teacher can allow the groups to choose a specific prehistoric period or, in order to ensure a more equal representation of the periods, assign the time period to the groups.


After completing the poster or diorama, the students should complete a written report that will serve as a basis for their oral presentation. The students should address the following terms as they relate to their assigned prehistoric period: artifacts, ceramics, lithics, ecofacts and features. In the oral presentation of the poster or diorama, the group should be sure to address these terms in their description of the prehistoric project.

Optional or additional activities:


The teacher will facilitate a discussion about the field of archaeology and the job of an archaeologist.


The teacher will instruct the students to create a job description for an archaeologist as well as a job application for this type of position. The students should describe in job description any special skills and knowledge as well as training that an archaeologist would need for a job. Students can work with partners for this portion of the lesson. The Web sites and sources listed in the Further Reading Section at the end of the Mississippi History Now article can be used as a resource as well as the Mississippi History On Loan video viewed by the class.


The students will present their job descriptions to the class.


Students will present their posters, dioramas or job descriptions and applications to the class.



Student participation during presentations as well as class discussion


Responses to worksheets


Written reports


Oral presentations






Job applications


Job descriptions



Access the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Web site at http://www.mdah.state.ms.us for its calendar of events. You will find listed a number of archaeological activities at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians and Winterville Mounds Museum.


The brochure “Indian Mounds of Mississippi: A Visitor’s Guide” can be ordered through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. It lists the American Indian mounds found in Mississippi that are open to the public. Plan a field trip for your students to one of the locations mentioned in the brochure.


Access information concerning the Old Capitol Museum’s School Outreach Program at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s web site. The museum has traveling trunks on various Mississippi history topics available to school teachers in Mississippi. One traveling trunk is “Prehistoric Archaeology and Mississippi.” The trunk contains information that can be used to teach how archaeologists use artifacts to reconstruct the day-to-day lives of American Indians who did not leave written records of their societies. Lesson plans have been developed to use along with the artifacts and resources contained in the traveling trunks.


Students can work in groups and create an artifact based upon a student-created culture. The artifact can be broken into pieces and buried. Students can bury the artifact in order to simulate an archaeological dig. Allow the student groups to piece together the artifact in order to determine facts about the student-created culture. Clay pots can be decorated with symbols from the student-created culture and used as an artifact by the student groups.


Allow the students to participate in an archaeological dig held in your local area or take a field trip to an area that sponsors student participation in archaeological digs. Many museums throughout the state sponsor archaeological digs. Beauvoir in Biloxi usually sponsors an archaeological dig for students in March or April each year.


Invite an archaeologists to speak to the class.

The videos mentioned in this lesson plan can be ordered from Mississippi History On Loan, a service offered by the Museum Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Videos listed in its catalog are available free of charge to Mississippi public schools and to eligible private schools. Complete the required form (if you do not have one, call 601-961-4724 and ask the audiovisual coordinator to mail one to you). Mail the completed form to: Mississippi History On Loan, Manship House Museum, 420 East Fortification street, Jackson, Mississippi 39202-2340.

Indians, Archaeology, and Prehistoric Mississippi Questions (PDF Format)

Indians, Archaeology, and Prehistoric Mississippi Answers (PDF Format)

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