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Search for the Lost Cave People

Classroom Activity

To examine primary source documents to draw inferences about 17th century American colonists.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Material Possesions" student handouts
    Materials Possesions (PDF or HTML)
    Godbertson Household Inventory (PDF or HTML)
  1. Scientists in the program make conclusions about the Zoque by analyzing artifacts found at the sites. Students can draw inferences about seventeenth-century American colonists by examining a primary source document that describes the possessions of one household.

  2. Divide students into small groups and distribute copies of the "Material Posessions" and "Godbertson Household Inventory" student handouts.

  3. Tell students they will analyze a probate inventory from 1633 and draw conclusions about the people who owned the possessions. Explain that probate inventories list the contents of houses and properties of deceased individuals for tax purposes.

  4. Have groups examine the list and make interpretations about the people, their lives, and the period in which they lived.

  5. Conclude by having groups compare their findings and discuss why they think an interpretation is valid.

Activity Answer

This probate inventory lists the belongings of Sarah and Godbert Godbertson. This husband and wife lived on the Plimoth Plantation and died when an epidemic of "infectious fever" (probably smallpox) killed more than 20 of the colonists in 1633. Sarah came from England and Godbert, Sarah's third husband, originated from Holland. The Godbertsons were farmers and members of the Separatist Church. They had several children who were adults and probably not living with their parents and whose possessions are not included in the inventory. The Godbertsons' belongings were of average worth among the colonists.

Because the document is written in seventeenth-century English, students may find some of the words and spelling unfamiliar. Many similar items are grouped together, such as cooking utensils or clothing. Students can use these groupings to help them identify unfamiliar items. Students might also find it helpful to cut individual items from the list and then group items into categories. Students might also compare the relative value of items and infer which items were considered to be of value to the people.

Students' interpretations will vary. From the list, students might make the following interpretations:

  • the clothing such as a gowne, petticoate and stockings suggests that one individual was female; breeches suggests one individual was male

  • the number of coats and cloakes and the fact that the inventory was taken in New England during October suggest a cold climate

  • the writing table suggests that the person(s) knew how to read and write

  • the bible, communion, and commandments suggest that the person(s) practiced Christian religion

  • the animals and corn suggest that the people were farmers

  • the worth of the animals and land suggests that these items were considered most valuable

Encourage students to do further research to expand their interpretations of the list and to determine the identity of any "unknown" items. The Plimoth Plantation Web site has You can find primary and secondary sources, a bibliography, and related Web links at the Plimoth Plantation Web site.

Teacher's Guide
Search for the Lost Cave People

Video is not required for this activity