Why is the Past Important?
Connections to the curriculum:
Science, social studies
15 to 40 minutes
• Students bring to class an object, photograph, or drawing of an object that represents
We realize that this doesn't have much to do with public lands on the surface,
but we need to remember that Canada's public lands contain a wealth of archaeological
sites and these sites need to be considered in the public lands use debate. Mining,
golf courses, logging, and other forms of development often take place in areas
where ancient people lived and development as a way of damaging sites beyond
repair. This may be a stereotype, but once you dig a hole into a midden, the
midden can be gone forever. If we educate children about the importance of the
past, they will become better stewards of the future, both of land and resources.
As an introduction to the study of our archaeological heritage, students will
use a personally owned object to:
- Share the importance of their past.
- Connect this importance with reasons why the human past is important.
- Archaeological site: a place where human activity occurred and material remains
- Archaeology: a method for studying past human cultures and analyzing material
- Artifact: any object made or used by humans.
Sites and artifacts can be messengers from the past. If we know how to read their
messages, material remains can tell us about the people who made and used them
and then left them behind. Although the owners of the artifacts and the inhabitants
of the sites may have lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago, they undoubtedly
had many of the same needs and concerns, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows
that we have today.
The messengers from the past belong to everyone. Everyone has a right to know
how the world came to be and to know his or her place in the world and material
remains can answer those questions.
The link to the past is provided through scientific analysis as well as through
traditional values placed on archaeological sites and artifacts. For example,
L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland provides a tangible link to the colonial history
of Canada and is valued for that reason. By examining its historic buildings
and objects, the site provides scientific information about the lives of the
historic inhabitants. Similarly, some prehistoric sites throughout Canada may
represent the heritage of First Nations and are valued accordingly. These sites
are also capable of providing scientific information about the prehistory of
Setting the Stage
This lesson will help the students to begin to discover why we study the past.
Assign the students to bring an object from home that tells about their own
or their family's past. If the object cannot be brought to class, a drawing
or description will suffice.
- Share background information and vocabulary
- Working in groups of 3 to 4, students tell each other
what the object conveys about their past.
- In a class discussion, ask the following questions:
- Is it important for you to know about your past?
Why or Why not?
- Is it important to know about the human past?
Why or Why not?
- What can we learn from the past? The students brainstorm
ideas. Some examples: how humans lived in the past
and why cultures change over time.
If your past is important to you, what statement can you make about the importance
of the past in general?
Source: Intrigue of the Past: (1996) Shelly Smith, Jeanne
Moe, Kelly Letts, Danielle Patterson
is the Past Important? (Adobe PDF document)