Gathering, Gardening, and Agriculture – A New Fifth Grade Social Studies Curriculum in Arkansas

Cover of the Gathering, Gardening, and Agriculture 5th Grade Social Studies Curriculum.

Public education is an important part of the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s mission. Recently we developed a 5th grade social studies curriculum aligned with the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) 5th grade Social Studies Curriculum Framework. The curriculum, Gathering, Gardening, and Agriculture: Plant-based Foodways in the Southeastern United States, focuses on plants because, as critical parts of our foodways, plants not only fulfill nutrient needs, they teach us about culture, history, and economics. Biologically, people need food to survive, but what we eat is part of our history and culture. In addition, Arkansas, along with the surrounding mid-South region, is one of only ten world centers of independent crop domestication. Preserved plant remains excavated from dry bluff shelters in the Arkansas Ozarks (and now curated at the University of Arkansas) represent most of the evidence supporting this identification. This curriculum is designed to celebrate this important aspect of Arkansas’s past.

The curriculum consists of five lessons to be taught over the course of one week, plus a bonus lesson. Each lesson is approximately one hour in length. The lessons use the 5E’s Instructional Model (Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, Evaluation) and focus on a temporal comparison of plant use in the southeastern United States that draws specific examples from Arkansas. The lessons model the processes of archeological inquiry pertaining to plant-based foodways. Students look at archeological evidence, including site maps, artifacts, and seeds, and their relationship to each other (context) to reconstruct and interpret the past. Students use archeology to discover how diets changed when people shifted from hunting, fishing, and gathering wild foods to growing their own food through gardening and agriculture. In a bonus lesson, students explore the effects of European colonization in the Americas by mapping the exchange of plants on a global scale. Gathering, Gardening, and Agriculture provides hands-on activities and guided investigation of three archeological sites in Arkansas (Rock House Cave, Toltec Mounds, and Parkin) in which students learn scientific literacy while gaining new knowledge about Native American plant-based foodways in the southeastern United States.

Lesson One: Archeology Is about People. This lesson defines archeology, dispels common misconceptions, and introduces students to the critical thinking and analysis processes that archeologists use to study the past. Students explore chronology, observe objects and infer their use in an archeological context, and use evidence to answer questions about the past. It introduces students to the importance of chronology and context in the study of archeology.

Teacher workshop participants learning about foraging foodways.

Lesson Two: Foraging Foodways. Students participate in the foraging foodways simulation and learn about early foragers. Students explore the basic need for food and learn about foodways and nutritional, cultural, and economic practices related to the production and consumption of food cross-culturally.

Lesson Three: First Gardens. This lesson introduces students to the basics of stratigraphy and students learn how archeologists determine the relative age of artifacts. Here students look at domesticated plant seeds and learn how Native American cultures changed with the development of gardening. For this lesson, it is helpful for teachers to show students examples of the seeds and plants. The ARAS has prepared packets of the sunflower, goosefoot, maypop, and sumpweed seeds highlighted in the lesson and distributed those packets to teachers at the workshops and made them available upon request.

Lesson Four: Changing Gardens and Evolving Fields. Lesson Four introduces students to changes associated with the adoption of corn agriculture, introduced from Middle America, using both archeological and Native American perspectives.

Lesson Five: Stability and Change in Early Colonization. Lesson Five introduces students to the use of primary historical sources. They learn how to study maps and accounts written by early explorers to identify evidence of additional changes in Native American foodways.

Educators learning about wild plants, like fiddlehead ferns, during the teacher’s workshop at Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.

Bonus Lesson: Many People, Many Plates. In this bonus lesson, students learn about the Colombian Exchange and map the origin and spread of plants and think about how this historical process shaped their diets.

Printed copies of the curriculum activity book are available to educators by request. It is also available as a free download on the Survey’s webpage: The Gathering, Gardening, and Agriculture webpage is designed to promote the curriculum and make it easier for teachers to use. All of the teaching materials are available as easy downloadable pdfs so that teachers do not have to photocopy the activities.

In addition, the Survey held two teacher’s workshops. They conducted an hour-long presentation at the Arkansas Gifted and Talented Educators Conference in Little Rock and held a full-day workshop at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (WRI) in Morrilton.

Dr. Horton showing the teacher workshop participants rock art depicting sumpweed on the walls of Rockhouse Cave.

This project was made possible with the generous support of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference’s Public Outreach Grant, the Arkansas Archeological Society’s Bill Jordan Public Outreach Fund, the Arkansas Humanities Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The curriculum, the website, and the teacher’s workshops underscore the Survey’s mission to study and preserve Arkansas’s past and to share what we learn with the public. Arkansas has significant archeological resources, from the bluff shelters of the Ozark Mountains to Mississippian mound complexes of the Central Mississippi River Valley and historic plantations. Although the ARAS, along with citizen volunteers and local, state, and federal partners, campaigns for archeological education and preservation, our state’s sites and the archeological record face continued threats from development, agricultural land-leveling, and looting. Education is a way to help protect Arkansas’s archeological record. By working with teachers, we help them increase their content knowledge of the important contributions that southeastern Indians and European, African, and early American populations made to the ways in which people use plants today. We also foster a greater sense of the importance of preservation among teachers and their students.

Leftovers (Archaeology and Food!)

Recently, I’ve begun analyzing data for my dissertation project in historical archaeology.  My day is spent in the lab, surrounded by animal bones, small tools for detailed cleaning and measuring, spreadsheets, and more bones.  I’m interested in brothel household food practices, and animal remains from kitchen trash deposits are a good place to start.  As a zooarchaeologist I’m often asked about my lab process, especially about the kinds of things can I learn from studying animal bones and how I know what they are.  When I’m embarking on a new project I often ask myself the same kinds of questions.  How do I identify animal remains?  What categories are important to my basic research questions?  Does any of this actually matter?

As a point of reference, I’ve been starting with the same tongue-in-cheek query I’ve been asking myself since my first solo project: Who ate the hamsteak?  Broken down into basic parts, what I’m really posing is an answer to why zooarchaeology matters.  “Ate” implies an action, a human behavior.  “Who” implies a search for the identity of the eaters.  The “hamsteak” is what is left over for the archaeologist to find, a clue to discovering cultural identity.  Examining eating habits is a way for me to understand not only past diets, but delve into meaningful choices that indicate ethnicity, class consciousness, fashion, heritage, nutrition, and many other aspects of humanity.

Choosing categories in which to record data that might show patterns in food choices usually begins with a broad understanding of what is in that pile of bones sitting on my table.  Species, skeletal element, and age are necessary no matter what the project is about.  Published guides about bones with detailed drawings, measurements, and age charts are available for archaeologists, but the best way to identify animal remains is by comparison to complete zoological specimens.

Since my focus is on food, I also collect data on how the meat was prepared, including butchery marks, if the bone has been burned, and other human modifications.  Butchery marks can be very obvious, such as the relatively neat lines and even surface an industrial saw makes, or they can be difficult to distinguish, such as scratches from utensils during consumption.  Burning has more ambiguous meaning – for example, it can indicate food preparation or it can indicate how the remains were disposed.  Sometimes you can see that a bone was broken or smashed intentionally in preparation to recover the marrow inside for use as an ingredient.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, I determine the cut of meat from butcher charts.  Knowing the cut links a bone to specific recipes, serving methods, pricing, and food trends, all of which can be researched historically.  Analyzing food remains doesn’t end in the lab.  I spend a lot of time pouring over regional and historic cookbooks for popular dishes and personal records for family favorites.  Newspapers with restaurant and grocery advertisements, personal accounts, and food columns are also helpful in deciphering what I am looking at in that big pile of bones.