This lesson guides teachers and students through an archaeological dig simulation which could then be used as a preface to an authentic archaeological dig situation.

Students will use images from GABI RET Flickr album ( to prepare for a field experience.

This lesson plan was developed as part of the 2012-2016 Great American Biotic Interchange Research Experiences for Teachers Project (GABI RET).

By Hanni Patterson-Smith

Intended Audience

Middle School

Time Frame

3 days


Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

New Mexico
5-8 Benchmark 1-A. New Mexico: explore and explain how people and events have influenced the development of New Mexico up to the present day:

R1. Compare and contrast the settlement patterns of the American southwest with other regions of the United States


  • GABI RET Flickr Photo Album (
  • Paint brushes/screwdrivers
  • Artifacts
  • Dig Guide

    Guiding Questions

    1. What are some of the theories used to describe how the North American continent became populated?
    2. What do you know about the elements that make up culture?
    3. How do archaeologists conduct their work?
    4. What tools/skills are necessary for field work?
    5. How do these ancient societies compare? Contrast?
    6. Discuss how cultures may develop naturally in regions based on the materials available to them.

    Key Academic and/or Scientific Language

    Academic Vocabulary: Indigenous, Clovis/Folsom, Big-game hunters, Exploration, Discovery, Stratigraphy, Archaeology, Geology, Layers, Paleontology

    Scientific Vocabulary: Analysis, Assess, Compare/contrast, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources.


    1. I can make observations and record my thoughts/connections to analyze a civilization.
    2. I can participate in an archaeological dig and create a report about my findings.
    3. Analyze the causes for movement of different tribes


    Formative Assessment

    1. Article readings
    2. Notes on geologists, paleontologists, and archaeologists
    3. Observation of photos = discussion/questions

    Summative Assessment

    1. Dig participation
    2. Dig diagram and inference form

    Teaching phase

    Day 1

    Discuss: GABI RET project and share photos from Flickr photo album. Prompt students to question the differences between geologists, paleontologists, and archaeologists. Students will make observations on the tools and processes documented in the photos from the field experience. Eat Panamanian candy!

Day 2

(Secretly bury artifacts in an area). Review. Introduce dig template with diagram, explain the Law of Superposition and the word stratigraphy. Head out to the dig site and explain the “Lost Earring Walk” as well as the use of tools.

Day 3

Students complete their dig site diagrams, their inferences on culture, and write an essay about pursuing a career in one of the science fields we discussed based on their experiences. Share with the class.

Reading | Writing | Speaking | Listening Strategies

Reading: Students will analyze article readings, maps, and diagrams.

Writing: Students use interactive journals, graphic organizers, write essays and notes.

Speaking: Students present their conclusions about culture and careers in these sciences.

Listening: Students will listen to their teacher’s experience in Panama and how it will guide our experience.  Students will also listen to one-another’s opinion pieces based on careers in these three sciences.

Learning Progression

Prior Knowledge/Skills
Students have grown up in an area rich in cultural and natural science history.

Current Knowledge/Skill
If students can gain experiences observing the world around them and making inferences, they will be more fluent in cultural experiences when they leave the reservation setting.

Future Skill Connections
Connections can be made to the reservation and how we will be looking at how our society was shaped and formed by the events in history.  Students may also consider a career in geology, paleontology, and archaeology after this experience.