We started our study of Archaeology with an inquiry investigation from the Archaeological Institute of America entitled "The Mystery Cemetery."
We examined a simulated excavation site, looking at a cluster of tombs to determine patterns and details that would tell us about the people buried there. We knew the size of the skeleton indicated age, the artifacts (beads, washers, etc.) in each tomb were worn by the person in their lifetime, and we knew screws represented weapons carried by the person.
We needed to find out 1) the gender 2) the age, and 3) the social status of each skeleton.
First, we took notes on what we saw, noticing things like the fact that all of the people with "weapons" (screws) were facing south, and all of the people with pots for grave markers were facing north.
We also noticed there were different artifacts and different amounts of artifacts in different tombs, and that the coffins were different sizes.
Next, after recording all our observations, we shared our thoughts in small groups, discussing different ideas and trying to come up with inferences about the people in the cemetery, supported by the facts we were given and the observations we made.
We noticed all the tombs with weapons had no pots and were facing south, so we thought those must all be male. We knew all the artifacts in each tomb were things that had been worn by that person in life, so the tombs with more artifacts, we decided, were the tombs of higher social status individuals.
We determined that women were buried in the tombs that had long, narrow coffins, which were all facing north, and they all had pots for gravestones and no weapons. We determined that women with more colorful pots were more wealthy, or of a higher social status, than the ones on the tombs with plain pots.
It was not easy (or comfortable) to figure out the meanings of things like which way the skeletons were facing. We made plenty of wild guesses and got some things wrong. Ultimately though, we realized how important it is for archaeologists to look at finds in connection and comparison to the other things found around them. Thinking like an archaeologist, it turns out, is no easy feat. It requires a lot of comfort with uncertainty, as there is ultimately no 100% complete, correct answer.
We learned how to recognize inferences or educated guesses supported by fact vs. wild guesses, which were often more interesting to think about. What a fantastic lesson in critical thinking and a great start to a year of "Advancement!"