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Lesson 1.2

Subjects: social studies, language arts.
Skills: knowledge, comprehension, analysis, evaluation.
Strategies: brainstorming, categorize, compare and contrast, discussion, reading.
Duration: 30 to 45 minutes.
Class Size: any.

Ceramic pot from Cherokee County, North Carolina, ca. AD 1770.


In their study of culture, students will use a chart to:


"Comparing Cultures" activity sheet for each student. "Glimpses of Indian Life" narrative.


Anthropologist: a scholar who practices anthropology--the comparative study of human culture, behavior, and biology, and of how these change through time.

Anthropology: the comparative study of human culture, behavior, and biology, and of how these change through time. Archaeology is often considered a specialty within anthropology.

Archaeology: a method for studying past human cultures based on material evidence (artifacts and sites). Archaeology is often practiced as a subfield of anthropology.

Archaeologist: a scientist who seeks to understand past human cultures by careful study of the artifacts and other evidence from archaeological sites.

Cultural relativism: understanding other cultures in their own terms without making judgments about them.

Culture: the set of learned beliefs, values, styles, and behaviors generally shared by members of a society or group. "The way the members of a group of people think and believe and live, the tools they make, and the way they do things" (Braidwood 1967, p. 30).

Ethnocentrism: the attitude that one's own traditions, customs, language, and values are the only right and proper way, and that those of other cultures are inadequate or wrong.


Anthropology is the comparative study of humans and their cultures. Cultural anthropologists usually conduct their studies by observing the members of a cultural group as they live their lives and interact with one another. Archaeologists are anthropologists who study cultures by analyzing material evidence (artifacts and sites). Most archaeologists study past cultures, but some archaeologists use the same methods to study living cultures. Among the questions archaeologists seek answers to are: How are cultures different? How are they alike?

Anthropologists have learned that all people everywhere have basic needs that must be met. Some of these basic needs, like food and water, literally keep body chemistry going. Others kinds of basic needs transcend those required for physical well being, but are just as important to people's lives. Most anthropologists believe, for example, that sociability is a basic need because people tend to die in isolation. While not the food or water required to keep the human body functioning, sociability is an important part of survival.

A fundamental assumption of archaeological study is that people who lived in the past had the same basic needs for existence as do people living in the present. Using the broad (physical and social) category of basic needs, these needs may be outlined as follows:

What needs must be satisfied is universally human. How needs are satisfied is cultural. The many different ways that cultures have evolved to meet the basic human needs results in the world's rich cultural diversity.

When studying other cultures, there is a tendency to emphasize only the differences among people and to look at other cultures ethnocentrically. Cultures with less sophisticated forms of technology are frequently portrayed as simple-minded and naive. However, on the contrary, such people often have unequaled understanding, knowledge, and adaptability to the environments in which they live. It is important not to accentuate "them" and "us." When scientifically studying other cultures, it is necessary to suspend judgment. One culture is neither better nor worse than another; it is just different. This is the concept of cultural relativism.

Many people mistake archaeology for a swashbuckling "Indiana Jones" adventure, and archaeologists often are thought of as questing after rare and beautiful artifacts. Although it is true that at times archaeologists do find rare and beautiful things, they could more accurately be compared to Sherlock Holmes. They are detectives--detectives of the past, who gradually piece together the culture of a people to understand more about them. A lone artifact discloses very little about a culture. It is by studying many sites and artifacts and their relationship to each other and the environment that one discovers the way people lived. Archaeologists study a people's culture by studying the things they left behind.

Setting the Stage

1. List on the board students' responses to the following: What do you need to have in order to live?

2. After the students have brainstormed, help them categorize their list. They do not have to arrive at the five categories outlined above. Anthropologists themselves do not agree on how to categorize the needs. For example, the students may come up with eight needs: food, water, shelter, clothing, reproduction, transportation, education, and explanation.


1. Distribute the "Comparing Cultures" activity sheet to the students. Write the categories of basic needs the students identified during their brainstorming (food, shelter, etc.) down the vertical column on the chart's left side.

2. Read "Glimpses of Indian Life," based on John Lawson's journals of his survey trip through the Carolinas in 1701. This will familiarize the students with some aspects of Native American life in North Carolina when European colonists were living in towns along the coast. You can also choose a third culture to analyze and compare--for example, the culture of Mexico or an East African culture, or any culture with which your students are familiar.

3. The students construct the chart, filling in how the basic human needs are met in the different cultures.

4. In a class discussion, students compare and contrast the cultures. If the different cultures seem strange or inferior to the students, inform them that our culture can be baffling to people from another culture. For example, today's Hindus are horrified at the thought of eating meat; it is against their religion to do so. When European colonists arrived, many Indian tribes in North Carolina were egalitarian. They made decisions through consensus, or agreement, of a council. Native Americans were puzzled when Europeans wanted to deal with a single "leader" whose voice could dictate how things were done.

5. Explain that because archaeologists can neither ask the people who left the artifacts how they met their needs, nor observe them using the artifacts, past behavior must be inferred from the material remains of the culture. For example, if corn cobs are present, archaeologists could guess that the people were farmers.

Note: The students may not find the information they need from "Glimpses of Indian Life" to fill in all the blanks. Discuss why this may be so. For example, perhaps the author only chose to highlight certain things from Lawson's journal, or the Indian people Lawson visited and wrote about chose not to give him certain information about their beliefs, religion, or other aspects of their lives. Therefore, the author who condensed Lawson's account did not have access to that information either. Also, do not single out or make an example of students in your classroom who are from minority ethnic groups. The attention can be embarrassing and hurtful. However, welcome what these students might freely offer to the study of other cultures.


As you analyze the chart, what do you notice about the ways cultures meet their basic needs? How do archaeologists and/or historians discover how people met basic human needs in the past?


Students turn in their activity sheets for evaluation.


Lesson 2.11: "Inference by Analogy."

Lesson 4.7: "North Carolina Place Names."


Braidwood, Robert J. 1967. Prehistoric Men. 7th ed. Glenview, Ill.: Scott Foresman.

Lawson, John. 1967 [orig. 1709]. A New Voyage to Carolina, edited by Hugh Talmage Lefler. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Smith, Shelley J., Jeanne M. Moe, Kelly A. Letts, and Danielle M. Paterson. 1993. Intrigue of the Past: A Teacher's Activity Guide for Fourth through Seventh Grades. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior. [This lesson is adapted from "Culture Everywhere" on pp. 11-13, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.]

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. [The image in this lesson's main heading is taken from Figure 7.14.]

Activity Sheets for Lesson 1.2

"Comparing Cultures." For the PDF version of this sheet, click here.

"Glimpses of Indian Life." For the PDF version of this sheet, click here.

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