To die like an Egyptian: A quick anecdote of BHP’s impact on one of my IEP students

Andrea Wilford
Big History Teacher, 9th Grade
Muscatine, IA

Unit 7 uses a “Ways of Knowing” activity called “Social Status, Power and Human Burials” to introduce students to the impact of farming on creating wealth, human hierarchies and divisions of labor.  Students examine the pictures below to make inferences, as a historian would, as to what these burials reveal about that past society. Our classes choose to do a case study on the first picture, the un-mummified Egyptian.

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After a short introduction to the hierarchies of ancient Egypt and their burial beliefs and practices, we engaged in a simulation called “To Die Like an Egyptian”.  The purpose of the game was to obtain the proper goods and burial needed to ensure a good afterlife, regardless of your class status.  Each student was given a role, from peasant to Pharaoh, and a set of goods or services each could provide.  Given a limited time to barter their goods and services to obtain what they need for a proper burial and afterlife, they attempt to gain extra points for extra wealth acquired. Though I have used this simulation in the past in a regular history course, Big History added this accolade:  Below is a student assessment of the activity—this is from a freshmen student, Z, who has an IEP for writing.  At the beginning of the year, Z’s first 5-paragraph essay consisted of 6 sentences.  For this activity I asked for a brief summary of their role in the game and what they learned.  Z submitted his answer below.  This is what the Big History Project has done for my students—they have grown in their reading, writing and reasoning skills, and it is measurable!

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To Die Like An Egyptian Summary                   By Student Z

In this game I was a scribe.  I wasn’t rich or poor—I was middle class.  One positive thing about my role is that since I didn’t start off with all the goods that I needed it gave me a chance to be able to trade with all different classes of people and see how all the other different classes of people lived.  A negative thing about my role was that it could be hard to get some of my goods that were needed by the end of the game because I didn’t start off with things of enough value that upper class people would want to trade goods.  The more valuable goods you had would make you have a more powerful social status.

The advantages of bartering to trade over currency like we use today is if you have something worth a high value and someone else has something of a lower value but you both want to trade then it works better because you both traded without having to sell or buy something new and you both got what you wanted out of the trade.  A disadvantage of bartering to trade is there is no proof of your trading.  If there is a problem with the item your fellow trader traded you for then you lost your good for another that doesn’t even work and you can’t do anything about it.  There is also no guarantee warranty when you’re trading unlike if you bought something from the store.

Ancient Egypt believed they needed to have certain things and be rich before they died to have a good afterlife.  Ancient Egyptians were buried with all their goods they acquired over their lifetime.  In modern America our beliefs of how to have a good afterlife vary from person to person.  Some people believe in a religion and pray to their god to have a good afterlife.  Other people believe after you die there is no afterlife.  One way Ancient Egypt and modern America differ is because in America we aren’t typically buried with a lot of valuable stuff just something simple usually, like some flowers.  Valuable things like jewelry are usually passed down to their kids and grandkids.

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