Artifacts 2: Artifacts in Context

What You Need


The following are suggested readings for students. If you do not wish to have students read the material online, print and copy the following resources, part of the Mysteries of Catalhoyuk exhibit from the Science Museum of Minnesota:

Artifacts 2: Artifacts in Context


To hypothesize how people lived during a certain time, based on archaeological sites and artifacts.


In Artifacts 1: What Can We Learn from Artifacts?, the first of this two-part lesson series, students learned what artifacts are and what kinds of information can be determined about the behavior and physical characteristics of people by looking at these objects.

This second lesson puts students in the role of archaeologist, using the mysterious city of Catalhoyuk to explore how artifacts can give us clues to how people once lived. Students will explore an archaeological mystery that demonstrates the importance of context in learning from artifacts. Factors such as the artifact's location, its proximity to other artifacts, and the number of similar artifacts found can provide strong clues about the possible purpose and origins of the artifact, as well as the physical characteristics and behaviors of people responsible for creating it.


Introduction to Catalhoyuk
Tell students that they will be studying the ancient city of Catalhoyuk in an attempt to learn more about how the people in this community once lived. To do so, students will study a variety of artifacts and create a classroom exhibit on the Mysteries of Catalhoyuk. Before they begin their investigation, they will read some introductory material on the ancient city to help give them some context through which to view the artifacts.

Read, or have students read the Introduction for the Mysteries of Catalhoyuk exhibit from the Science Museum of Minnesota. Here, students will read some general background information on Catalhoyuk that will provide some context for the activities that follow. You may wish to have students locate Turkey on a map so they have some idea of where this ancient city is.

Also, you may want to discuss the following:

  • Why are people studying Catalhoyuk?
  • What can we learn about how people lived in ancient Catalhoyuk from studying artifacts?


Artifacts at Catalhoyuk
Distribute printouts of the Artifacts page with the Artifacts at Catalhoyuk student sheet attached.

Working in groups of 2-3, have students look at the artifact in each photo and record what it suggests about the physical characteristics and/or behavior of the people of Catalhoyuk. Then, allow groups to visit the Artifacts page online. Students should click on each artifact to learn more about the object and what archaeologists have learned about the people of Catalhoyuk by studying it. As students explore each artifact, have them add to the information recorded earlier on the Artifacts at Catalhoyuk student sheet. They should also record any unanswered questions about the artifacts.

Ask students to share some of their findings and respond to the following questions:

  • What kinds of information can we learn from artifacts?
  • What kind of information can't we learn from artifacts?

Mysteries at Catalhoyuk
To expand on this idea, have students return to the Mysteries of Catalhoyuk exhibit from the Science Museum of Minnesota to read about the mystery of the Clay Balls.

Have students read the description of the clay balls and the archaeologists' ideas about how they were used by the people of Catalhoyuk. Of particular interest is the interview with Sonja Suponcic, an archaeologist from the Catalhoyuk survey team. In this interview, Suponcic discusses the clay balls, the questions they raise, and some of the ideas that archaeologists have come up with to explain their existence and possible uses. More importantly, she points out the importance of context in studying an artifact. Factors such as location, proximity of the artifact to other artifacts, and number of that type of artifact found can all provide significant information regarding the object's purpose or origins.

After viewing the video, have students discuss the following:

  • In addition to the object itself, what information do archaeologists rely on when studying an artifact?
  • Ideas about an artifact lead researchers to make some assumptions about the behaviors of the people -- which lead them to ask more questions. For example, if the balls were used for counting, what might that lead us to conclude about the people using them? What additional questions does it lead us to ask? (Using the balls to count might suggest that the people were intellectually advanced and creative enough to establish a way to keep track of something. What might that something be?)
  • Think about the artifacts you've investigated and the information you've already learned about Catalhoyuk. What ideas do you have on the mystery of the clay balls? Can you provide any evidence to support your idea? What other related artifacts or information on Catalhoyuk have you seen that would help you support your idea?


Tell students that they should think back on the previous two activities as they create a poster for the classroom exhibit on Catalhoyuk.

Each student will submit a poster that depicts an artifact from the Catalhoyuk site and explains what it tells us about the people who once lived there. Have each student select an artifact from the Artifacts page If your students need more guidance, you may wish to assign a specific artifact to each student. The artifact photos can be printed out if limited computer time is available.

Each poster should include the following:

  1. A description and illustration of one artifact from Catalhoyuk.
  2. A description and illustration of how the artifact gives clues to the physical characteristics and/or behavior of the people of Catalhoyuk.
  3. A list of questions that the artifact raises.

Have students think back on the kinds of questions and assumptions that came up in the previous activities. Encourage students to be creative in coming up with their own explanations of the artifacts, and remind them that some questions will remain unanswered, as is the case in many archaeological digs.

In the end, your classroom should become a "walk-through-exhibit" of Catalhoyuk. You may wish to provide opportunities for students to share and explain their posters.


Students can learn about another famous archaeological site at Treasures of the Sunken City where over five acres of underwater artifacts are being mapped off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. Visit Jean Yves Empereur to read an interesting interview with the archaeologist who excavated the underwater site. If the computers your students use have Vivo or Real Player, go to Unforgettable Moments to view video highlights of the Alexandria excavation.

Journey to a New Land explores the arrival of the first peoples to the Americas about 12,000 years ago. It includes some interactive games for students and resources for teachers.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks

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