K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Chipped-stone drill from Stanly County, North Carolina, 8000-6000 BC.

(Ward, H. Trawick, and R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr. 1999. Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. [Figure 3.4.]. More about the photograph)


science, social studies, language arts
application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation
scientific inquiry, classification, research skills, writing
45 to 60 minutes
Class size
any; groups of 3 to 4

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Intrigue of the Past
Lesson plans and essays for teachers and students explore North Carolina's past before European contact. Designed for grades four through eight, the web edition of this book covers fundamental concepts, processes, and issues of archaeology, and describes the peoples and cultures of the Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian periods.
Page 1.8

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Related pages

  • Pottery traditions: Students will learn how Indian people of North Carolina made and used coiled pottery, summarize why archaeologists study pottery, and make and decorate a replica of a North Carolina coiled pot.
  • A guided journey into the past: In their study of archaeological resource conservation, students will use guided imagery to discover and judge an alternative way to enjoy artifacts without removing them from archaeological sites.
  • Looking at an object: Students will analyze unfamiliar objects in order to observe the attributes of an object, infer the uses of objects; and discover how archaeologists use objects to learn about the past.

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In their study of scientific inquiry, students will use an activity sheet to:

  • make inferences about what activities go on at different places in school (desk, locker, etc.) and form an hypothesis about how space is used;
  • simulate how archaeologists learn about past people by designing and conducting a research project.


Archaeological Inquiry” activity sheet for each student and group.


Classification: a systematic arrangement in groups or categories according to established criteria.

Data: information, especially information organized for analysis.

Hypothesis: a proposed explanation or interpretation that can be tested by further investigation.

Inference: a conclusion derived from observations.


The goal of archaeological research is to answer questions about people who lived in the past. Hypothesis formation and classification depend on the chosen question. For example, if we want to learn about a Colonial family’s income, we could hypothesize that more nonessential items than essential items means they had a significant disposable income. We would classify the relevant artifacts into two classes: essential items and nonessential items. Based on the outcome of the classification, we would accept or reject our hypothesis.

Archaeology is an intrusive science. When archaeologists use its techniques to study contemporary cultures, they can reveal facets of those cultures that can touch a number of different emotions among the people studied. These can be a mix of embarrassment, enlightenment, denial, anger, appreciation, or curiosity. Sometimes descendants of the people studied feel the same way.

Archaeology is also an incremental science. A hypothesis supported by data from one site can be turned on its head when another site’s evidence is analyzed. Archaeologists constantly subject the inferences they make about people to critical analysis. For example, after they use one set of data to accept the hypothesis about Colonial income, they ask themselves what else can they include in the equation to support or refute it.

Setting the stage

Have students classify the contents of their own desks, lockers, or backpacks in whatever manner they choose. Items could be categorized as follows:

  • writing instruments (pencils, crayons, etc.);
  • paper;
  • books;
  • miscellaneous (gum, money, toys, etc.).

Ask students how they would proceed if they wanted to know something specific about what the owner of a desk, locker, or backpack does at that particular site. This is how an archaeologist begins to study past cultures.


  1. Distribute a copy of the “Archaeological Inquiry” activity sheet, which the students will fill in as they are led through the following inquiry.
  2. Pose a question: Archaeological inquiry always begins with a research question. Archaeologists want to answer questions about past human activities and behavior and must use material evidence to do so. Ask students to consider the following question: “Are the items in their desks or lockers used only for school work or do they reflect other activities the student engages in while at school?”
  3. Formulate an hypothesis: If a student’s desk or locker has items not required for school work, then he or she engages in other kinds of activities while at school.
  4. Classify the data: For each location’s artifacts, only two categories are essential: items required for school work and items not required for school work. Discuss with the students differing ideas about what constitutes “required items,” because this determines how objects are categorized.
  5. Analyze the data: To answer the research question, ask which category contains the largest number of objects. If there is a greater number of items that are not required, then we accept the hypothesis: i.e., the school is a place where people do things besides school work. The students have made an inference about the place called school and have tested their inference (hypothesis) using classified objects.


Divide the class into groups of 3 to 5 students and give each group another the “Archaeological Inquiry” activity sheet. Have them design and conduct an archaeological research project using objects found in different locations in the school. Each project must answer a question about the people who own or use the objects; e.g., what subjects are being studied at this point in time in the classroom? Do the things students keep in their desks or lockers suggest something about social activities? What? Each group presents their results to the class.


Students turn in their “Archaeological Inquiry” activity sheets for evaluation.

An example of a completed “Archaeological Inquiry” activity sheet

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 2: The learner will use and evaluate information from a variety of sources.
    • Objective 2.02: Use multiple sources of print and non-print information to explore and create research products in both written and presentational forms by:
      • determining purpose, audience, and context.
      • understnaing the focus.
      • recognizing and/or choosing a relevant topic.
      • recognizing and/or selecting presentational format (e.g., video, essay, interactive technology) appropriate to audience.
      • evaluating information for extraneous detail, inconsistencies, relevant facts, and organization.
      • researching and organizing information to achieve purpose.
      • using notes and/or memory aids to structure information.
      • supporting ideas with examples, definitions, analogies, and direct references to primary and secondary sources.
      • noting and/or citing sources used.
      • recognizing the use of and/or employing graphics such as charts, diagrams,and graphs to enhance the communication of information.

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 9

  • Goal 1: Historical Tools and Practices - The learner will identify, evaluate, and use the methods and tools valued by historians, compare the views of historians, and trace the themes of history.
    • Objective 1.03: Relate archaeology, geography, anthropology, political science, sociology, and economics to the study of history.