Discovering History Through Archaeology


Discovering History Through Archaeology


Diorama of Paleoindians butchering a mastodon. This is what we think happened to the Burning Tree Mastodon, which was uncovered south of Newark, Ohio, in December of 1989. (Ohio History Connection)

The Ohio Department of Education’ Social Studies Team recently invited me to speak to educators about how archaeology can contribute to our understanding of history. Since we’re currently living in the shadow of COVID-19, I didn’t get to speak directly to anyone. I sat at my desk in my office at home staring at my PowerPoint slides trying to imagine people at the other end of that stream of electrons and hoping I had something interesting and useful to share with them.

Many of the people to whom I spoke were social studies teachers and many of them probably taught history. Some of them may have wondered what archaeology had to do with history.

Archaeology has been referred to as the “handmaiden of history”; as if it merely provided supplemental information for historians such as you might find in the footnotes of a history book. But I wanted to let these teachers (and now you) know that archaeology is so much more than that.

Archaeology is a way to discover history – all of history, not just the few thousands of years that people have been writing down their stories, but the millions of years spanning the entire human odyssey. And not just the stories of rich people who could afford to pay scribes to engrave their version of history on clay tablets or stone stelae. Archaeology has the potential to recover the stories of anyone who ever built a wall, made a camp fire, broke a knife, or threw out their trash.

So I talked about archaeology as a way to recover and interpret traces of the immense human past; and then I presented two case studies from my own research. The examples bracket the entire pre-contact period of Ohio – from the first people to ever set foot in the Ohio valley, the Paleoindians who arrived during the waning stages of the Ice Ages and may have had something to do with the extinction of the mastodons and mammoths, to the indigenous villagers who lived here just a few centuries before Europeans arrived and changed everything for the indigenous peoples of this and every other region of the Americas.

The Ohio Department of Education’ Social Studies Team has posted my presentation on their webpage as a resource for Social Studies teachers and, well, anyone with an interest in the subject. So, if you’re interested, here’s the link.

Recall, however, that I was not in a recording studio. I was sitting at my desk talking to my relic of a computer with limited WiFi bandwidth. At times, it may sound like I’m broadcasting from the Moon. And, during this frustrating but vitally necessary time of social isolation, I might as well have been on the Moon.

Thank you to Linda McKean for inviting me to be a part of the Ohio Department of Education’s series of Social Studies Virtual Meetups!

Brad Lepper
 

Posted May 22, 2020
Topics: All Topics

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