Museums and Anthropology

BEASLEY_09_27_2011_13_28_46Hello everybody,

The next several posts will include the lesson plans we used for the UA partnership with the Tuscaloosa Magnet School. This semester the classes were taught by Taylor Burbach, Meghan Steel, and Erica Schumann, with the direction of graduate student Greg Batchelder. Enjoy!

Week 3: Museums and Anthropology

Activity: Curating an Artifact

Discussion: Museums

  • Museum- a place where important items are preserved, protected, and then put on display.
    • Different kinds of museums. Provide examples of local museums.
    • What museums have the kids visited?
      1. Moundville? Museum of Natural History Museum on UA’s campus? Creative Discovery Museum? Etc…


  1. Role of Museums in Anthropology
    • offer a place where we can learn about other cultures
    • preserve important artifacts
    • provide a place where the general public can view exhibits that highlight the cultural significance of artifacts, beliefs, and customs
    • provide a place where archaeologists can go to study ancient cultures
  2. How do museums work?
    • Items are donated/loaned by patrons, items are catalogued by curators, investigators research the item to learn about it and its cultural significant. Then the item is put on display in exhibits.
  3. Introduce curators & their duties

Curator- a person who works at a museum

    • What do curators do?
      1. Catalogue the items that are donated to the museum
      2. Care for artifacts- any item that was made or used by a human
        1. Everything can be an artifact (tools, clothing, artwork, jewelry, trash, modern or prehistoric, used or new, etc.)
      3. create exhibits
      4. Museum exhibits- a collection of items that are curated to share information about a specific topic
        1. Virtual exhibits
        2. Exhibits at the museum
    • What skills would be important for a curator?
  1. Show an example of a virtual exhibit (show one item from a web page to illustrate the point)
    • Smithsonian Kids

    • Identity by Design- tradition, change, and celebration in native women’s dresses

    • Ceramics of the Americas – National Museum of the American Indian

    • Living Maya Tima- Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian

    • Smithsonian Kids Collecting

Independent Practice: Curating Artifacts

Students will break into small groups/pairs to catalogue and describe an artifact using standard descriptive techniques (measuring, describing, assigning a specimen number, etc.). Each group will create a museum catalogue and assign each specimen a unique number. This will mirror the process that archaeologists and curators use to prepare museum exhibits and research collections. Students will then describe their artifact to the class using the measurements and information they collecting during their analysis of the artifact.


assortment of artifacts or items to catalogue (1-2 per group)WP_20140923_002


magnifying glasses

museum catalogue list (1 per group)

museum artifact worksheet (attached)


What can we learn from museums?

What do curators do? What skills would be important for a curator to learn?

Reiterate the importance of museums & of understanding the cultural significance of artifacts, as that is what distinguishes archaeologists from collectors, looters, and the proverbial “treasure hunter.” Artifacts are important because they are associated with peoples and cultures and, therefore, are priceless.

What exhibits would the students like to see?

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