Lesson Plan: What does an Archaeologist do?

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An archaeologist is someone who studies ancient remains to try and understand how people lived in the past, for example, Dr Diane Davies below.

KS2 History Teaching Resources

Dr Davies at work with Year 6 from Woodlands Primary School, Essex


To understand the role of an archaeologist and what happens at an archaeological dig.


Slideshow to accompany lesson plan.


Starter Activity:

IWB- picture reveal: What’s happening in the image? (find one of an archaeological dig). This activity is to help children realise the importance of context and that without knowing the context of an artefact it can be hard to find out the true story of the item.

Activity 1: Understanding the role of an archaeologist

  • What makes an archaeologist? Example activities you could create include true/false fact cards, generate a list of adjectives or simply discuss what does an archaeologist do (perhaps using pictures of famous archaeologists or movie/book characters).
  • What are the differences between a historian and an archaeologist?
  • Why do archaeologists dig? What with? How do they do it? Show pictures, videos etc. of Dr Diane Davies’s excavations or use the 5 W’s.
  • What skills does an archaeologist need? Students could create a job description (or the teacher could write one) based on the following features: ability to notice the context, interest in stories (analysis of past), objectivity, team work, peer assessment skills, expert in one are, interest in the past, willing to travel, can work/live in harsh environments. Desirable skills: language, objectivity, facts.

Activity 2: Consolidating Knowledge

Example activities could include “A day in the life of an archaeologist” webpage (see below) or magazine article, or, students try to discover the story behind a given object (e.g. an item in the classroom) to illustrate objectivity (teacher gives wrong info/correct info to some students to illustrated context, and how important facts and context are. You could also design a practical activity in the form of an archaeological dig

  • Photos from Casa Herrera, Centre of Mesoamerican Studies, Guatemala, which show photos of an archaeological dig (see slideshow above).
  • Job description of an archaeologist (see teacher notes below).
  • Dig: sand, cat litter tray, resources to dig, objects to hide.
Curriculum Links
  • PSHE careers
  • RE (MMLJ)
  • History
  • LA – facts cards/key words
  • MA – day in the life of an archaeologist
  • HA – object story – relevance context

Pupils select activities themselves, with relevant support with English skills if needed e.g. writing frame for the “A day in the life…” activity.

Teacher Notes


Diane excavating a Maya house at the Maya site of San Bartolo, Guatemala


Historian: A person who researches, studies and writes about the past.Historians only write about societies which had writing.

Archaeologist: A person who studies human history and prehistory through excavation of sites and analysis of artefacts and physical remains. Archaeologists write about both societies that had writing and those that did not.

Other information:
    • Archaeologists work as part of a large team of experts to ensure that their work is accurate (for example a peer review takes place meaning 3-4 people (who are similarly qualified) check your work.
    • Archaeology work can be very subjective and so in order to discover accurate information about the past archaeologists must remember to be objective too.
    • Archaeologists work with other specialists such as anthropologists, osteologists, artists, photographers, ecologists.
    • A whole team forms a community working on a dig; from the archaeologists themselves, but also cooks, drivers etc.
    • There are interesting discussions once artefacts are discovered, such as do they have a more historical value or purely artistic.
    • When excavating first you start in a small test pit e.g. 1m x 1m and 50cm depth, then work along the site before digger deeper down. When digging deeper you look for changes in soil and may dig 2-3m deep. The pit won’t be extended unless you find something.
    • Once the artefacts are excavated then much more time is spent analysing the objects in labs.
    • In Guatemala there must be one Guatemalan worker for every Western worker. This is a government requirement which helps to protect and support the local community.
2 Responses to "Lesson Plan: What does an Archaeologist do?"
  1. Molly says:

    Hi I’m from a school you came to today called co op academy beckfield it was really fun to watch the best part was when we got to touch the maya things and talk about them it was so fun.Thank you

    • School: Co-op academy beckfield

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