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Alternate lesson plan to go with "Archaeological evidence of shamanism's ancient roots" module

Module by: Margaret Jones. E-mail the author

Before the Lesson

The day before the lesson, ask the students to save three different items that they were going to throw away and instead collect them in a bag and bring them into class. It might be a good idea to ask them not to bring anything smelly, messy, or that they would be embarrassed to share with the class.

The Lesson


If the class has not read about or discussed shamanism before, you might want to begin class by briefly introducing the word “shaman” to the class. For an in depth look at what the word means, see module “What does 'shaman' mean? The dispute surrounding the definition and correct use of the word 'shaman'”. The following are some basic ideas to share with the class:

(1) In English, the word is often used interchangeably with terms like “medicine man,” “witch doctor,” “sorcerer,” and “magician.”

(2) Scholars who study shamans disagree on who exactly ought to be called a shaman, but there are some basic ideas that many agree on. Basically, shamans are religious experts who act as intermediaries between the world of humans and the world of spirits, a place which exists parallel to our own world but is invisible to the untrained eye. Shamans believe that people are constantly effected by spirits: An angry spirit might cause bad luck or illness, a pleased one good luck and good health. It is a shaman's duty to intervene on the behalf of their community, chasing away troublesome spirits and securing the good will of others. They do this by entering trances, which allow them to enter and communicate with the spirit world.

(3) Many Native American healers and religious practitioners are commonly called shamans, but there are shamans in other cultures all over the world, including peoples indigenous to the Amazon jungle and the icy Siberian steppe.

Article and discussion

Read article together.

How crazy is it that most of what we know about many ancient peoples comes from sifting through their trash?! Ask the students to get out the items that they saved the day before. Find an open space where the students can spread the items out and arrange them into different categories. A large table would be ideal, but an open space on the floor will do. Have the students gather around this space and empty their “trash bags” in the center.

Next, have the students arrange the items into categories. Spread the items out and discuss what categories they would like to use. Some common categories might be “food waste,” “paper waste,” and “broken writing utensils.”

Once the items are arranged, ask the students to imagine that they are archaeologists from the future who are studying our society and have dug up these items. What do these items tell them about the society that they are studying? What do people eat? What tools do they use? What do they spend their time doing? Examine and have students read aloud the writing on things like scrap paper and food wrappers. What does this tell them about the society that they are studying? What does it tell them about people's values and interests?

Finally, do the students believe that the sample of trash items that they gathered are representative of what we actually throw away? What's missing? Which types of trash are over-represented and which are under-represented? On the board, create a list of common trash items and put them into categories. What do the students think future generations will make of our society based on the things that we throw away? Do they think that our trash provides an accurate representation of who we are?

After the Lesson

Have the students keep a 24-hour log of every item that they throw in the trash. When they finish the log, have them write a paragraph reflecting on the log.

Some questions that they might reflect on: What were the most common waste items that you threw away? Was that a typical 24-hour period or were certain trash items over- or under-represented? If someone were to try to recreate your everyday life based only on what you threw away, what conclusions would they come to? What do you eat? How do you take care of yourself, work, and play? What (if anything) is missing from the picture of your life that could be pieced together based on this information?

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