The scene depicted is based on an actual Aleut burial site located on the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska (see map below). The additional artifacts and cave drawings were added as clues to help students identify the site's culture and location. The Aleutian mummies were hung from the ceiling or set on platforms in this Alaskan cave nearly 260 years ago. These bodies were mummified just before 1740.
The clues can be used in a variety of ways to solve the mystery of whose burial site this is. For example, the presence of furs, whalebone and a canoe suggest that the culture is from a northern location near water, which may lead students to investigate Alaska, Russia, Greenland, Iceland and Norway. Depictions of sheep, moose and caribou on the cave walls help students pinpoint Alaska as the region in which this culture resides. Cave drawings depicting a chain of islands surrounded by water pinpoint Alaska as the land mass. If students then research where volcanoes are found in Alaska, they will discover that almost all of Alaska's active volcanoes are in the Aleutian arc. This should lead them to seek out information about the Aleuts, which will reveal that the burial site is theirs. (Students who choose to use volcanoes alone to as a method to pinpoint the location will find that a number of volcanoes exist in Alaska, Russia and Iceland.)
Lauber, Patricia. Painters of the Cave. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1998.
Moseley, Michael Edward. The Incas and Their Ancestors:
The Archaeology of Peru. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1992.
Reinhard, Johan. "Research Update: New Inca Mummies." National Geographic (July 1998): 128-135.
NOVA Online—Ice Mummies
Ice Treasures of the Inca
The "I Can Dig It!" activity aligns with the following National Science Education Standards:
Science as a human endeavor: Science requires different abilities, depending on such factors as the field of study and type of inquiry. Science is very much a human endeavor, and the work of science relies on basic human qualities, such as reasoning, insight, energy, skill, and creativity—as well as on scientific habits of mind, such as intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism and openness to new ideas.
Science as a human endeavor: Individuals and teams have contributed and will continue to contribute to the scientific enterprise. Doing science or engineering can be as simple as an individual conducting field studies or as complex as hundreds of people working on a major scientific question or technological problem.
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