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Ice Mummies—Frozen in Heaven

Classroom Activities

I Can Dig It!

To analyze and interpret information in order to locate an archeological site.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "I Can Dig It!" student handout (HTML)
Procedure Journal illustration
  1. Organize students into groups and distribute the activity sheets. Have students read the scenario in the Field Journal Notes. Discuss the nature of the clues given and how students might use them in their search. (You may also want to invent your own scenario from a time period or culture you have previously studied.)

  2. Have groups research the scenario. You may want to provide hints to students having difficulty solving the mystery. (For example, "You are looking for a northern culture," or "The burial site is located in a chain of volcanic islands.") Once students have completed the activity, have them present their findings to the class and explain how they arrived at their conclusions.

  3. As an extension, consider having students create their own archeological field journals. In groups, have students create a description of a burial or dig site, including information about items found, climatic conditions and other clues of their choice. Then have groups exchange clues and try to identify each other's culture and locale.

Activity Answer

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.)

Map showing Russia, Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands

Links and Books


Lauber, Patricia. Painters of the Cave. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1998.
Provides an introduction to Ice Age people. Text and images depict artifacts and cave paintings left behind by ancestors of modern humans.

Moseley, Michael Edward. The Incas and Their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1992.
Provides the prehistory of the Andean region, including a thorough summary of Inca civilization.


Reinhard, Johan. "Research Update: New Inca Mummies." National Geographic (July 1998): 128-135.
Describes the December 1997 return of Reinhard and his crew of archeologists to the summit of Pichu Pichu in the Peruvian Andes to discover more human ritual remains, gold figurines and other evidence of the Inca heritage.

Web Sites

NOVA Online—Ice Mummies
This Web site, originally a NOVA/PBS Online Adventure launched in Fall 1996, will provide Updated information about the archeological expeditions that discovered three different ice mummies.

Mummies 101
Contains information about mummification, specifically the practices of the Aleut. Note: This site contains some graphic photos. Preview first to determine its appropriateness for your students.

Ice Treasures of the Inca
Contains extensive information on the Inca ice mummies.

Archaeology is an online and print publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. The site includes articles about current archeological topics and a news brief about the Iceman's return to Italy.


The "I Can Dig It!" 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
Ice Mummies—Frozen in Heaven

Video is not required for this activity