After watching the program Forensic Detectives: Archaeology at Work , ask students the following questions: What is archaeology? ( The study of material remains of past activities. ) How does archaeology teach us about ancient cultures? ( Artifacts, or recovered objects, can show us how people lived. ) In addition to ancient cultures, what else do archaeologists study? ( Events in the recent past, such as crimes. )
Tell students that archaeologists are like detectives. They search for evidence and analyze clues to reach a conclusion. Archaeologists often uncover evidence during digs, or excavations. Ask students to compare two digs featured in the program: the Chiribaya in Peru and the bones in Barrington, Illinois. What did these digs have in common? ( They uncovered people who have died. ) What did archeologists want to know about the Chiribaya mummies? ( Details about the ancient Chiribaya culture ) What were the investigators in Illinois looking for? ( The identity of the body, the cause of death, and if a murder, who committed it. )
Divide the class into two groups. Have one group focus on the Chiribaya and the other focus on the investigation in Illinois. Ask each group to describe the evidence and what each piece revealed. Have them record their answers in a chart. The charts below provide possible answers. For younger students, you could provide the evidence and have them complete the second column.
|Evidence||What It Reveals|
|Wool clothing||The Chiribaya used domesticated animals.|
|Decorated pots, beautiful jewelry, ornaments||They were craftsman, and they worked with gold and other metals.|
|Some bodies carefully preserved and buried with food, pots, and other objects||They believed in an afterlife.|
|Food offerings of corn, potatoes, peppers, and grains||These were typical foods.|
|A mummy buried with coca leaves inside the chest cavity||Artificially prepared body; must have been an important person.|
|Coca leaves' age determined by carbon 14||Death took place between 1350 and 1450.|
|Evidence||What It Reveals|
|No zippers, elastic, or other objects in grave||Body buried without clothes|
|Body carefully laid out||Buried by someone who took care|
|Notch in the hipbone; larger forehead on skull||Male|
|Length of leg bones (femur and tibia)||Body about 1.5 meters tall|
|Gaps between the ends of long bones||An adolescent|
|Rust-colored stain (dried blood) on the right femur, which had started to heal||Old injury on right leg at the time of death|
|DNA from teeth||Related to the suspect and his ex-wife|
|Hospital record||The missing person believed to be the skeleton in an accident 6 months before disappearing.|
Have each group share their charts with the class and fill in any missing pieces of evidence.
Ask students to describe the tools and technology used and the experts consulted in both investigations. (The archaeologists used shovels, spades, brushes, X-rays, endoscope, and carbon-dating; they consulted with an expert on Chiribaya culture. The investigators in Illinois used hand shovels, rubber gloves, spades, newspaper archives, DNA analysis, and hospital records; they consulted forensic anthropologists.)
Challenge students to write a brief mystery about the archaeological discovery of a body. They can write about a mummy from an ancient culture or a person from the recent past. Their stories should describe at least five pieces of evidence, including where they were found and what each object revealed and the resources used (tools experts consulted). Stories should be no longer than two pages.
Definition: an object or information used to reach a conclusion
Context: Examples of evidence from a crime scene include fingerprints and hair, blood, or fiber samples.
Definition: the process of digging a hole or cavity for the purpose of locating and removing artifacts from an archaeological site
Context: Archaeologists often use hand shovels, spades, brushes, and dental picks in the excavation of burial sites.
Definition: the use of techniques of conventional archaeology to uncover physical evidence from a crime scene
Context: People working in the field of forensic archaeology may analyze bones and teeth to determine a crime victim's age, sex, and cause of death.
Definition: the study of evidence discovered at a crime scene and used in a court of law
Context: Forensic science is used to investigate details of a crime, such as the identity of a victim or suspect or the time the crime took place.
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
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