Artifacts, in general terms, are items made by humans. Items made by humans in the past are often uncovered by accident when later people are digging in the ground to farm or to build things. They are also found when archeologists conduct studies of areas identified as possible historic sites. Over 210 prehistoric sites have been located and identified in the US Virgin Islands. These sites, when excavated and studied, reveal fragments of the story and way of life of the Amerindian people that lived in the islands prior to the arrival of Europeans and Africans. Items that have been found include ceramic houseware including griddles, bowls, pots, plates, vessels, etc. Some of the ceramic items are simple, others have designs on them, and some have carvings that look like faces and animals. The bowls and vessels vary in shape, and it is believed that some were functional, and some were ceremonial. The items created by the Amerindian people illustrate that they had diverse traditions.
In this activity, students will use questions from an Artifact Analysis worksheet to meet and observe the artifact of an Amerindian handle that was found at Salt River, St. Croix. Students will draw the artifact and think about how the original artist made it, and what it looks like. They will investigate how bats fit into Taino culture and ceramics.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
Before beginning this activity, help students to understand what a primary source is, have students provide examples of primary sources, help them with examples as needed, discuss why an artifact is a primary source, and discuss the difference between primary sources and secondary sources.
Ask students if they know the definition of artifact, Amerindian, and archeologist. Help them to understand the three terms as needed, and to understand that Amerindian artifacts are found by archeologist in the Virgin Islands many years after they were original made and buried by time and soil.
Load the photograph of the artifact onto an interactive smart board and have students make observations together. If there is not a smart board, students can work in small groups at computers. There is a front view, side view and back view of the artifact. It is important to view all three sides.
Also load the Analyze Artifact worksheet on the smart board or on computers so that you can lead students through discussing their answers to questions on the worksheet.
Analyze the Primary Source
You may load the Analyze an Artifact worksheet on the smart board or on computers so that you can lead students through answering the questions, print the worksheet and distribute to your students, or adapt the questions from the worksheet to create your own. Primary Source Analysis Worksheets
Have students complete the Analyze an Artifact worksheet individually, in small groups, or as a class. Help students as needed to complete the worksheets. Review their answers and the observations as a class.
You may wish to draw students’ attention to the details on the artifact. What do students think about the handle? What does it look like? What does the handle tell them about the person that made it? How do they think the artist made the design?
Archeology Sketch Project: Archaeologists often find parts and pieces of tools and pottery belonging to Amerindian cultures. It’s a challenge to imagine how all the pieces originally fit together, especially when some pieces are missing! Students will take on the job of drawing the handle and imagining what the object it was connected to might have looked like.
To help students with their drawing, the teacher may want to use the web to show students photographs of various complete Taino ceramics. Use the search term “Taino Ceramics” in a search engine. And then choose the “Images” tab to view only results that are images. Various images of Taino ceramics should be found doing this search. Select a few images of complete ceramic vessels to share with students.
Next, students will draw the handle and imagine what it was connected to. Under the drawing, they will first describe the face that is on the handle and then answer, what animal does it look like? (Be sure to show the students all three photographs of the artifact: front, side, and back. The side view and front view are particularly important.)
Follow-up Research Project and Essay: Have students research and write an essay answering the following questions “How do bats fit into Taino culture? How are bat looking figures, and other animals, used in Taino ceramics?