Understanding History Through Artifacts

Grades 6-8 Beliefs/Religions, History Lesson or Unit Plan
  • "Noble Tombs at Mawangdui" display of Lady Dai artifacts from the Hunan Provincial Museum

In this lesson, students will examine Lady Dai’s tomb through an exploration of the artifacts found there. They will study the objects buried in Lady Dai’s tomb through images and draw conclusions about Lady Dai and the time period in which she lived. Students will walk away from this lesson with the ability to derive historical knowledge from the comprehensive examination of artifacts.

Title: Understanding History Through Artifacts
Author: Tamara Acoba
Subject Area: History
Grade Level: 6-8
Time Required: Two 50-minute periods
Standards:

Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy in History & Social Studies

4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

7. Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

Common Core Learning Standards for Speaking & Listening

SL.8.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

SL.8.4. Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

SL.8.5. Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.

Common Core Learning Standards in Writing for History & Social Studies

7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

9. Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.
(Source: http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf)

Keywords / Vocabulary:
  • Artifacts – an object created by humans and often of archaeological and historical interest
  • Archaeology – study of past human societies through their material culture
  • Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) – Founded by peasant Liu Bang, lasted four centuries and is considered the golden age of China due to its economic prosperity, scientific advancements and contributions to art. It is known for the coining of money, the invention of paper and its lacquerwares.
Essential Question(s): What can we learn about the history of a person through artifacts? How can archaeologists and historians use artifacts to determine the structure, function and accomplishments a society from objects found in personal tombs?
Learning Objectives/Goals/Aims:
  • 1. Analyze artifacts and explain how they help us to understand the personal, cultural and political history of a person.
  • 2. Explain the history of Lady Dai and the importance of the discovery of her mummified corpse. Evaluate how the discovery of her tomb has helped historians to understand the history of Chinese society.
  • 3. Work collaboratively to create a garment for a woman in history like Lady Dai’s silk painting that shows the importance of the woman’s life, her background, status, culture, religious beliefs, influence and achievements.
Introduction:

In this lesson, students will examine Lady Dai’s tomb through an exploration of the artifacts found there. They will study the objects buried in Lady Dai’s tomb through images and draw conclusions about Lady Dai and the time period in which she lived. Students will walk away from this lesson with the ability to derive historical knowledge from the comprehensive examination of artifacts.

What was discovered at Lady Dai’s tomb?Lady Dai’s tomb was found at the Mawangdui site in Changsha, China in the 1970s. Her tomb was found under a hill site along side her husband, Li Cang, the prime minister of Changsha, and another male figure believed to be her son.

Based on the remains found, the tombs were from the early western Han Dynasty, 206 BCE – 9 CE. Lady Dai’s body was mummified and so well-preserved that archaeologists were able to do an autopsy on her. It is believed that she may have died of a heart attack and was in her 50s. They were also able to explore the contents of her stomach and found melon seeds and pork. It is believed that she died around 180 CE. She was buried about 2,100 years ago.

Her tomb was a series of nested coffins and she was buried with food, wine, books, lacquerwares, silk and about 1,000 objects. Some of the objects included lacquered dishes and cosmetic containers and mini figurines of musicians.

One of the most well-preserved objects was the silk garment that lay over her coffin. The silk painting reveals images that reflect the belief system in Han Dynasty China. Aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism can be found reflected in the images.

Procedure/Pedagogical Technique/Instructional Strategy:  1. Artifact Analysis – Divide the class into groups of four students. Present images of what was found in Lady Dai’s tomb. Ask students to describe each artifact and make conclusions about what kind of woman Lady Dai was.

2. Images – The coffin, the silk painting draped on top of the coffin, silk mitts, wooden musician figurines, lacquered cosmetic boxes.

3. Sharing of Findings – Each group shares their findings with the class what they discovered. Class discussion to review the history of Lady Dai and what we can learn about her and the time period in which she lived. What are the major similarities and differences among our conclusions about the artifacts?

4. Who was Lady Dai? – Reveal more of what archaeologists discovered the conclusions they made. Play Early China The Han Dynasty Lady Dai video by Professor Kenny Mencher. Share images from The Excavation of Lady Dai’s Tomb from the Archaeological Institute of America. Were some of your assumptions about the artifacts similar to that of archaeologists? What more can we learn about Lady Dai and her life based on all of these objects? What can we learn about Chinese society at the time?

Discussion Points/ GroupInteraction: 1. Why do you think Lady Dai was buried with those objects? How does that compare to your burial and funeral traditions?

2. What did each group discover through their analysis of Lady Dai’s artifacts? What class in society was she? What was her role or positions or occupation? What did she do for leisure? What was her family like?

3. Why are artifacts so helpful to historians to learn about the culture and politics of a historical era?

4. Why do you think the discovery of Lady Dai is so important to the study of history of China and the study of history of societies?

Assessment: Were students able to understand some aspects of Lady Dai’s life based on the artifacts? Can students explain the importance of artifacts to studying history? Do students understand why the discovery of Lady Dai’s tomb is so important to the overall study of the history of humanity?
Closure:  1. Work in pairs and research an important woman in history – local to your community, a national figure or a global figure. The woman does not have to be deceased.

2. Work collaboratively to create a garment like Lady Dai’s silk painting. Students are free to either do a painting of the garment and explain the materials on the painting, or create an actual garment piece.

3. Each student will write their own reflection essay about the garment they created.

4. Gallery walk with visitors (faculty, other classes and/or honored guests whose garments are being presented) with a discussion of warm feedback. Students present their garments and visitors walk around like a museum gallery visit and a short discussion to review what they have learned throughout the process of completing the assignment.

Instructional Resources/ Materials: Early China The Han Dynasty Lady Dai video by Professor Kenny Mencher
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LtB-jRLvWo

The Excavation of Lady Dai’s Tomb from the Archaeological Institute of America
http://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/mawangdui/

Entombed in Style by Eti Bonn-Muller from the Archaeological Institute of America
http://www.archaeology.org/0905/abstracts/lady_dai.html

Chinese Lady Dai leaves Egyptian mummies for dead by Yu Chunhong http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-08/25/content_368631.htm

The Last Feast of Lady Dai by Julie Rauer http://www.asianart.com/articles/ladydai/index.html

Extending the Lesson/ Follow-up Activity: Personal Garment – Design a garment for yourself. How would you like people to remember you? What would you like people to remember you by? And if you happen to believe in the afterlife, what type of objects would you like to have?

Museum Visit – Take class to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Study garments and/ or objects associated with women. What can we learn from those artifacts about how those women lived, their roles in society, their culture, and/ or their influence on society.

Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Caterogy: Grades 6-8 Beliefs/Religions, History Lesson or Unit Plan

Author

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