Bridgette Byrd O’Connor, BHP Teacher
Louisiana, USA

Students are introduced to a wide variety of disciplines in the Big History course, but how do you get students to really think like geologists or archaeologists? Specifically, in Unit 6, how do you get them to analyze historical information to come to conclusions about how early humans lived? Many activities help students hone these skills, including the Historos Cave activity from Lesson 6.1.

The Historos Cave activity invites students to piece together a narrative about the lives of early humans using evidence found in a fictional cave, one inspired by the actual archaeological site of Blombos Cave in South Africa. In doing so, they’re asked to assume the role of geologist, historian, anthropologist, or archaeologist. This gets students to think about how scholars from multiple disciplines would approach the same information, and maybe come to different conclusions.

Blombos Cave, South Africa by Vincent Mourre / Inrap, CC BY-SA 3.0.

In Historos Cave, students are only given a small selection of photographs, from which they must determine how early humans might have lived. What did they look like? What foods did they eat? I’ve overheard some interesting student theories about what the images convey. A few students theorized that Historos Cave’s early inhabitants were cannibals, because they thought a photograph of snail shells looked like skulls or ears!

A selection of photographs from the Historos Cave activity.

Eventually, as they work in groups to bounce ideas off each other, they end up coming to some pretty insightful conclusions. Most decide that Historos Cave inhabitants must have been relatively healthy, with tough feet from climbing in and around the cave all day. They determine that these early humans lived close to the sea, and that their diets must have consisted of sea life. The one thing that stumps them—as it does actual archaeologists and historians—is the markings on the cave walls. Nonetheless, students still generate some interesting responses: the scratches could be some form of record keeping, a calendar, or an early form of written communication.

It’s always rewarding to hear students use information they’ve learned in the course, as well as claim testers to work through the evidence provided in this activity. Historos Cave is perfect for encouraging students to ask questions and examine events from multiple perspectives, two core concepts BHP.

About the author: The 2016/17 school year marks Bridgette’s fifth teaching BHP as a semester-long history course. She teaches ninth and twelfth graders at Saint Scholastica Academy, a private school for girls. Bridgette teaches 120 students a year in three 90-minute sessions per day.

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