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Summer SAVY 2018: Session 1, Day 1 – Bioarchaeology (Rising 5th and 6th)

Posted by on Monday, June 11, 2018 in Grade 5, Grade 6, SAVY.

Today, we dove head first into the exciting world of bioarchaeology. First, to build our community of scientists, we played People Bingo! The students went around collecting information to better know their classmates with questions such as “Have you ever broken a bone? Have you been out of the country? Have you ever seen a skeleton in a museum?”

After breaking the ice, the students broke into groups of 4 to draw their very own skeletons. They chose one member to outline and then, as a group, filled in the skeleton as much as they could from memory. After they finished, the groups then went around to look at the other groups’ work and revise their own skeletons accordingly.  This was a great introduction to the skeletal system, and a lot of fun! We have a great classroom community and cooperation within our budding bioarchaelogists.

We then moved into an introduction to the broad field of bioarchaeology and anthropology and all of the ways we can study humankind.  We discussed the differences between forensic archaeology and bioarchaeology, and how osteology links them both.

This set us up for our next task– anatomical terms.  In order to study bones, we have to be able to talk like osteologists.  Terms such as anterior, posterior, medial, lateral, proximal, distal, superior and inferior are crucial to communicating your point. What better way to this than Simon Says Twister! The students took turns giving anatomical commands to their peers that that they would build on until someone fell or could not hold their position.

Upon learning these terms, the students were put into pairs to create what we called the Skeletron. Each pair researched a bone or set of bones, where they were in the body, and drew a picture of their assigned piece.  After presenting these to the class as an expert on their bone, we put them together to create one cohesive class skeleton.

Finally, we covered the topic of ethics. The issue of excavating and analyzing indigenous (archaeological) remains is a complex topic, especially in the United States. To get the students thinking about the black, white, and grey areas of this issue, the students watched a short video about a burial site in Kansas, The Salina Indian Burial Pit, that was excavated in the 1950s and put on public display. In the video, the archaeologists argued for the importance of digging up and displaying these remains, whereas the Native Americans fought to keep their dignity and traditions of honoring their ancestors through reburial. This case demonstrated a positive example of scientist-community compromise. Following the clip, I asked the students to form their own debate teams (Scientists vs. Native Americans) that each side must have considered in building their arguments. We ended the day with a written reflection about the ways in which burials, even those hundreds or thousands of years old, are still often connected to living communities.

Dinner Table Topics:

  • Ask your student to use anatomical terms to describe the placement of things in the room around them. (they can refresh their mind with this cheat sheet: )
  • Ask your student to explain why bioarchaeologists don’t really study human remains from archaeological sites in the U.S. Does your student remember what NAGPRA stands for?
  • Ask your student what bone they studied for their Skeletron piece, and what they learned about it!


Ms. Keitlyn Alcantara