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Lost Roman Treasure

Classroom Activity

To consider what future archeologists might assume about a present-day city.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Uncovering Your City" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  • local city map with grid
  1. Tell students that they are archeologists working in the year 4000 a.d. They have been assigned to excavate an area that was buried by an earthquake in the year 2002 a.d. Ground-penetrating radar studies have revealed the street layout, and historic maps of the city have helped identify the streets and surrounding structures. Funds are limited so only certain parts of the city can be excavated. In their role as archeologists, students will identify those areas based on which area they think may reveal the most information. Their objective is to figure out what would still exist and in what context it would exist in.

  2. Organize students into groups and provide each group with a copy of the "Uncovering Your City" student handout and a local city map.

  3. Have each group choose a one-quadrant area of the map (or a section of a quadrant, depending upon the complexity of the map). In choosing their section, students should consider what they might find in each section and what it could tell them about the community.

  4. After students choose their section, have them redraw their chosen area onto the student handout. Have them create a new map scale for the resized version of their chosen area.

  5. Now have students carefully study the section they have chosen. If they were to excavate it, what might they find? What would most likely be gone after 2,000 years of being buried? What might be left? What conclusions might students draw from the artifacts about the city and its inhabitants? Students may want to categorize their finds in groups such as transportation, climate, food, family structures, occupations, and social activities.

  6. To conclude, have each group report what they think they would find. Then have the class look at all the evidence collected. Would any groups make additional inferences now that they have a larger context in which to consider the items they found?

  7. As an extension, have students consider what they might put in a vacuum-sealed time capsule to best represent their community.

Activity Answer

Students should consider what they might find when choosing their area to excavate. An area containing a sports field may reveal information about social rituals but little else. A housing area may reveal the same information (from some of the sports equipment found in childrens' rooms) as well as additional information about family life.

As students consider what might be left and the context in which it might exist, they should think about how the earthquake might have altered city structures and infrastructures, such as buildings and sewer systems. Many other items also may not be found intact, such as motorcycle or car engine parts. These could have multiple origins and would need other artifacts to put them into context.

Students may have different opinions about what might survive or about how the artifact was used. Archeologists sometimes disagree in their interpretations of artifacts. Since they usually are working from fragmentary evidence, additional evidence is often needed to substantiate or refute current theories.

Unless destroyed by fire or other event, there would likely be many material remains that could reveal information about the city, including:

  • building foundations
  • infrastructure for sewer, water, and cable systems
  • household appliances such as stoves, microwaves, washing machines, and furnaces
  • business appliances, such as restaurant soda dispensers, dry cleaning equipment, and postal sorting machines
  • statues and other stone or metal structures
  • human and animal remains

Unless they were properly stored or trapped in a preserving material, organic materials such as cloth, paper, and food would no longer exist.

Considering archeological techniques in use today, students might be able to learn more about their artifacts by using dating techniques such as tree-ring dating or carbon dating or other discovery techniques such as chemical analysis. Historical accounts of the period may help reveal what some items were used for or the kinds of social or religious rituals that the community engaged in, including sports and cultural events.

Links and Books


Stark, Freya. Rome on the Euphrates. New York: Transatlantic Arts, 1975.
Recounts the history of Roman warfare along the Euphrates for eight centuries, beginning in about 200 B.C.


Kinzer, Stephen. "Dam in Turkey May Soon Flood a '2nd Pompeii.'" The New York Times, May 7, 2000, page 1.
Describes Zeugma work and raises some questions about the impact of the dam on the archeological site, residents, and the environment.

Kinzer, Stephen. "A Race to Save Roman Splendors from Drowning." The New York Times, July 3, 2000, page 3.
Describes the archeological project at Zeugma.

Web Sites

NOVA Online—Lost Roman Treasure
Provides program-related articles, interviews, interactive activities, and resources.

Community Archaeology Program Teacher Resources
Offers links to an annotated list of archeology Web sites and sample lesson plans that incorporate archeology into the classroom.

Physics and archaeology
Describes physics-related aspects of archeological research, including radioisotope and radiocarbon dating, various magnetic imaging techniques, and ground-penetrating radar.

The Zeugma 2000 Archaeological Project
Introduces the archeologists and excavation project at Zeugma, with links to photo galleries, descriptions of work done, and much more.


The "Uncovering Your City" activity aligns with the following National Science Education Standards:

Grades 5-8

Science as inquiry

Science Standard G:
History and Nature of Science

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.

Grades 9-12

Science as inquiry

Science Standard G:
History and Nature of Science

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.

Teacher's Guide
Lost Roman Treasure

Video is not required for this activity

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