Piecing Together the Past
Archeology and Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humans. Anthropologists are the scientists who seek to understand the human experience from the beginning to present day.
Archeology is the study of human history through the excavation (digging) of ancient sites where humans left clues behind.
Fossilization occurs when a living thing dies and its bones turn to stone.
The people of the Old Stone Age didn’t leave written records of their daily lives, but they did leave clues behind to help scientists understand how they lived. The clues include human bones that have fossilized (turned to stone), stone tools, and cave art. Anthropologists are the scientists who study the clues that are found. There are several ways an anthropologist can find out about the fossils and tools that have been uncovered by archeologists. One way is Carbon 14 Dating. Carbon 14 is a radioactive carbon that is found in all living things. It decays at a steady rate after something dies. That’s how scientists figure out how long ago it lived. Another way scientists learn about ancient humans is from DNA testing. DNA is the blueprint of how a living thing will develop. DNA is the code that determines eye color, hair color, skin color… Half of your DNA comes from your mother and half from your father. Scientists use DNA to find out how things are related. Scientists also use computer imaging to examine ancient skulls. They can measure to find out brain size. They can even reconstruct facial features to find out how the person looked when they were alive.
When a site is excavated, many of the fossil clues are broken up like a jigsaw puzzle. Archeologists carefully remove the pieces and reassemble them. If you’ve ever put together a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the finished picture will look like, you can imagine how difficult this task would be and how much time it would take.
SKULL PUZZLE ACTIVITY
You can use this activity in two different ways.
1. Puzzle Worksheet – Make a copy of either puzzle for everyone in your class. The Neanderthal skull is an easier 9-piece puzzle for younger students. The Cro-Magnon skull has 16 pieces for older students. Instruct students to cut the pieces apart and reassemble the skull to look like the skull in the picture. Or have them put the small picture of the finished skull inside their desk. They can take it out when they’ve completed the puzzle to check their work.
2. Archeological Dig – You’ll need to prepare a tray for each group of 4 students. To prepare the tray, you’ll need to print a puzzle or both puzzles for each group. Laminate the puzzles and cut them out. Place a set of puzzle pieces across the tray. Cover the puzzle pieces with sand or rice. Place four small paint brushes around each tray. Set a tray in front of each group. Instruct them to use the brushes to carefully uncover the skull fragments. The object is to put the skull together without seeing the picture of what the assembled skull will look like. When the group has finished reconstructing the skull, give them the small picture of the skull so they can check their work.
*You don’t have to make a tray for every group. You can make just one archeological dig tray for your classroom activity center. Small groups of students can take turns uncovering the skull pieces and putting them together.