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Lesson 5.5

Subjects: science, social studies, language arts.
Skills: analysis, synthesis, evaluation.
Strategies: reading, interviewing, writing, discussion, analogy, values clarification, decision making, problem solving, communication.
Duration: 60 to 90 minutes.
Class Size: any; groups of 3 to 4.

Shell mask from Macon County, North Carolina, ca. AD 1500.


Students will use an interview with a Native American to write a newspaper article or letter that expresses concern about robbing archaeological sites.


For each student, a copy of "A Point of View" and "Fact Sheet."


Context: the relationship artifacts have to one another and the situation in which they are found.

Projectile point: a pointed implement (usually made from chipped stone) that was attached to the end of a spear or an arrow. This is a general term that includes both spear points and arrowheads.

Stratify: to form or place in layers.

Vandalism: willful or malicious defacing or destruction of public or private property.


The desire to own and/or sell ancient Indian artifacts has been popular for many years. In search of artifacts, people dig, backhoe, and bulldoze their way through sites occupied hundreds and thousands of years ago by ancient peoples. Since Native Americans in North Carolina often buried their dead with offerings, looters dig their way into grave sites in search of jewelry, pottery, and other objects. The skeletons are removed haphazardly from their resting place and are sometimes found scattered around the site. Graves are not the only parts of archaeological sites that looters destroy. They also dig into the ground around house sites and trash pits in order to find projectile points and other stone tools.

Whenever looters dig on a site, they are destroying archaeological data that help archaeologists learn about what life was like for Native North Americans. Archaeologists rely on finding archaeological artifacts in the place they were originally discarded, or in context, to help them draw conclusions about the people who lived at the site. Ancient human remains, if they are to be disturbed at all, must be treated with respect and carefully recorded in the location where they were originally buried so that information will not be lost. Physical anthropologists study human remains and help archaeologists understand prehistoric nutrition, ages, injuries, diseases, and genetic relationships. Irreplaceable scientific information is lost forever when ancient sites are looted. Equally important, vandalism of graves offends the living descendants of ancient people.

Vandalism and theft at ancient sites shows a lack of respect for past peoples. All cultures have beliefs about theft and the proper treatment of the dead and feel very shocked and upset when the graves and former homes of their ancestors are disturbed. When excavating sites where Indian peoples are buried, archaeologists work closely with modern Native American groups. Archaeologists will avoid excavating the graves of Native Americans if the modern ancestors do not want the human remains disturbed. If the graves are threatened by the construction of a road or reservoir, archaeologists will work with Native Americans to insure that the human remains are treated respectfully during their excavation, removal, and reburial.

Setting the Stage

1. Discuss the purpose of Memorial Day and the tradition of grave decorating. Explore various reasons for this custom.


1. Share background information with students.

2. Have students read "A Point of View."

3. Have students imagine they are newspaper reporters. Tell them they just learned that the site where Mr. Jeffries believes his ancestors lived was vandalized by people in search of artifacts to collect and sell. As reporters, their assignment is to write an article about the vandalism. They should use "A Point of View" and "Fact Sheet" as resources for facts and insights. Tell students that in organizing information for their article, they should answer the five key journalistic questions: What happened? When? Where? Who was involved? Why (did it happen; matter; etc.)? Their articles should include observations about the impact the loss of information has on understanding the ancient villagers' lives, along with the thoughts and feelings about the incident expressed by the archaeologist and, especially, Mr. Jeffries.


Ask students to think about some special object that is in their home that a family member values for sentimental reasons. Perhaps it is an antique dresser that belonged to their mother's grandmother. Perhaps it is the baseball cap an older brother wore when his team won a regional championship. How would they and their family feel if someone vandalized or stole such an item? Why are these things important to people?


Students turn in their articles for evaluation.


Part 1: Lessons 1.1-1.8.

Lesson 5.4: "Artifact Ethics."

Lesson 5.7: "Take Action, Save the Past."


The piece entitled "Police Track Down Looters" is adapted from several newspaper articles describing an actual case of looting at the Hardaway Site in western North Carolina. Read the excerpt to students and ask the following questions:


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 "Grave Robbers" on pp. 117-118, 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 5.22.]

Activity Sheets for Lesson 5.5

"A Point of View." For a PDF version of this sheet, click here.

"Fact Sheet." For a PDF version of this sheet, click here.

"Police Track Down Looters." For a PDF version of this sheet, click here.

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