Week 5: Meddling Monkeys Scavenger Hunt

One of the ways that physical anthropologists learn about people is to study our nearest living relatives – primates. Primates include any member of the group of animals that includes human beings, apes, and monkeys. Learning about how primates navigate their world helps us understand the challenges and survival strategies that humans had to face in the past.

Primatologists, or specialists who study primates, are especially interested in learning how primates address one of the biggest issues that we all face: how to feed your family. Each primate species has a different from of social organization, although all primate species have to figure out how to survive against the odds. Factors that figure in to those odds include the proximity of other groups, competition for resources, the availability of high-calorie foods, and the need to protect the sensitive members of one’s group from predators.

This week’s activity pitted student groups against each other in a Meddling Monkeys Scavenger Hunt. In the MMSH, student groups were tasked with getting as many calories as possible by “foraging” throughout the classroom. Foods were represented by different colors of slips of paper and were placed with varying frequency throughout the classroom. The highest calorie foods, fruits, were worth 5 points. Fruits were present but were not the most common type of food in the scavenger hunt. Animal protein accounted for another category of the food in the scavenger hunt, being worth 2 points. Common sources include ants, insects, or grubs. The most common food source in the scavenger hunt, and in actual environments, included leaves and vegetation. In the game, a cluster of leaves was worth 1 point.

Students were divided into groups and were asked to come up with a survival strategy that permitted them to gather the most calories while still protecting the two primate babies that were given to each group. These babies were worth 10 points and could be stolen if the nest was not properly guarded. At the end, the group with the most calories (points) won.



Students can only carry one item at a time, as primates are not bipedal (except humans).

Students were asked to walk in various ways to lengthen the game, including hopping on one foot, knuckle-walking, crab-walking, and walking with their hands behind their back.

Babies can be stolen if not guarded. Two group members must be at the nest to protect the babies (not one).

If a group loses both of their babies, the group automatically loses.


At the end of the class period, the scores were tallied and each group was asked to weigh their choices against their relative success. Interestingly, only one group was able to steal a baby. And while such an acquisition may seem to signal success, a different group ended up with the highest number of points (or calories). That suggests that the most effective strategy for success may be more complex that focusing on a single, high-calorie resource.

At the end of the day, our class also got to try one of the delicacies of the primate diet – roasted crickets!

Here are a few of the brave TMSE students who elected to give our crickets a try!

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Others were more reluctant, but most of our students were willing to give it a shot.

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In the end, our  TMSE students learned about foraging strategies, the benefits of group membership, and even some of the downsides of being social. AND they got to sample a tasty treat!

Check back in next week, as we will start talking about human variation and genetic variability.




Week 4: Museum Anthropology


Snow days cannot hold us back! I’m Rachel Miller, an Anthropology and Biology student here at UA and am happy to be part of the UA Partnership at TMSE. I am happy to report that we are back on track after having a few unexpected snow days over the past few weeks. Today we covered Museum Anthropology. After spending some time on Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology, this was the perfect way to apply learned information.

Our students learned various aspects of museum and artifact handling for this week’s lesson. Students were broken up into groups and each student was to act as a curator for their individual artifact.

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Here is Sally helping a student identify a conch shell.

In order to become curators, students filled out a notecard to go alongside their artifact. The students had to identify material, color, size, place of origin (if possible), and a description for their artifact.

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Here are a group of students examining their individual artifacts.

The purpose of filling out the descriptive cards is two-fold. For one, those who are viewing the artifact are able to take note of quantitative and descriptive details of the item. For instance, they are able to see if the item is a ceramic, shell, or stone type item. One the other hand, the descriptive cards are essential for those who cannot see the artifact in person. The card is a way to paint a picture of the item without necessarily having to have it right in front of you. These cards are great for people who are conducting research in the field. Typically, research requires you to go and look at various entities first hand (usually in museums or collections all across the country). These cards help researchers make a decision whether or not these items are what they need to conduct their research.

The students concluded their lesson by putting their items on display and turning the classroom into a museum. This exercise emphasized the importance of detail that anthropologists must have when documenting artifacts as they travel from their original site all the way to a collection.

Stay tuned for next week’s session!

Week 3: Archaeology and Garbology

After a brief hiatus, the TMSE blog is finally being updated!


For this week’s lesson, our students learned about another branch of anthropology – archaeology.  Archaeology is the branch of anthropology that focuses on studying people in the past. However, since archaeologists cannot follow the lead of ethnographers and ask ancient peoples about their lives, archaeologists have to rely on other evidence to learn about ancient societies. Specifically, archaeologists have to rely on looking at the material remains of human activity. Specifically, archaeologists study artifacts, or items that were made and used by humans, as well as sites, or concentrations of artifacts.


While the idea of “material remains” or the “archaeological record” may at first sound obtuse, nearly every human activity leaves a trace, and, archaeologists are trained to compare those material traces to learn about human behavior.


My favorite example of the material record always begins with a family picnic, which at first seems to be a fairly ephemeral event. However, even though much of the food has disappeared by the end of the meal, the associated refuse would likely tell us much about the event. For example, inedible food remains (e.g., bones, fruit peels, etc.) and the quantity of associated trash would tell us how many people were present (3 or 20?), what was being served (friend chicken, hot dogs, or fresh veggies), and even the nature of the event (birthday party? Family reunion? Wedding party?). While it may seem strange, studying both ancient and modern trash is one of the best ways to learn about a society.


Accordingly, for this week’s activity, our students were introduced to archaeology by becoming Garbologists! They sifted through assemblages of household trash to learn about the individuals who created it. By comparing the types of materials within each assemblage, student groups were able to categorize the materials and discern the types of activities that led to its creation.


For example, one group’s assemblage consisted of wood blanks, nails, household glue, snack food wrappers, and random paper items. Based on this information, our group concluded that they were looking at the remains from a workshop or a toolshed.


Another group’s assemblage consisted of numerous food wrappers, office paper, used envelopes, broken pens, broken toys, mother’s day cards, nursery items, and paper towel rolls. Based on this information, the group concluded that they were looking at the remains of a household that contained, at a minimum, a mother and children of various ages.


Our TMSE students effectively learned about modern activities by looking at trash, which is the same thing that archaeologists do for ancient peoples. By looking at the detailed material culture associated with archaeological sites, archaeologists can reconstruct the lives of ancient societies.

The lesson plan for the Archaeology and Garbology activity can be downloaded here:

Week 3 Archaeology and Garbology

Thanks for checking in-

Dr. A. Brooke Persons