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American Indians lived in the area we now call North Carolina for at least 15,000 years. Archaeologists study the remnants of their communities to learn who these people were and how they lived and prospered for thousands of years. By collecting pieces of the archaeological puzzle, we know more about past indigenous lifeways and how people and cultures changed over time. Today, North Carolina is home to the largest population of American Indians east of the Mississippi River, totaling as of 2021 more than 184,000 people with eight state-recognized tribes and four urban Indian organizations.

The lessons presented here were developed as part of the 2021–2022 UNC World View Fellows Program, Exploring Indigenous Cultures: Ancient North Carolinians, Past and Present. North Carolina educators selected as Program Fellows created lessons for a variety of disciplines in K-12 schools and community colleges so students can learn about the ancient peoples that lived here and those who represent today’s vibrant American Indian populations. Lessons also make connections from the past to the present day by exploring multiple resources within the Ancient North Carolinians: A Virtual Museum of North Carolina Archaeology website to examine how communities changed over time and what influenced these changes. Understanding past indigenous lifeways—their complexity, resiliency, and vitality—allows for a greater appreciation of the contributions American Indians made to the past and continue to make to the present and future of North Carolina. The program was a partnership with the Research Laboratories of Archaeology (RLA) and the American Indian Center.

Meet the Fellows and UNC Team

Exploring Indigenous Cultures of North Carolina: Part I, THE PAST
By: Sierra Roark, Public Outreach Coordinator, Research Laboratories of Archaeology
Applicable for all grade levels: All content areas

Overview of Lesson: This brief slide deck and associated text provides background information for teachers using any of the lesson plans developed as part of the 2021-2022 UNC World View Fellows Program, Exploring Indigenous Cultures: Ancient North Carolinians, Past and Present. Educators are welcome to use these slides to introduce or enhance any of the lessons below. Length of instruction using these slides is estimated at 10-15 minutes.

Exploring Indigenous Cultures of North Carolina: Part II, THE PRESENT
By: Sierra Roark (Public Outreach Coordinator, Research Laboratories of Archaeology, UNC Chapel Hill)
Applicable for all grade levels: All content areas

Overview of Lesson: This brief slide deck and associated text provides background information for teachers using any of the lesson plans developed as part of the 2021-2022 UNC World View Fellows Program, Exploring Indigenous Cultures: Ancient North Carolinians, Past and Present. Educators are welcome to use these slides to introduce or enhance any of the lessons below. Length of instruction using these slides is estimated at 10-15 minutes.

American Indian Pottery of North Carolina, Past and Present
By: Anne Haugh (Penderlea Elementary, Pender County Schools)
4th Grade: Visual Arts

Overview of Lesson: Students will study pottery made by American Indians in North Carolina to learn how it marked the beginning of a new way of life for these first peoples. Lifeways began to change from transient hunters and gatherers to living in semi-permanent and permanent villages when pottery and horticulture became an important part of their livelihood. Contemporary Indians of North Carolina continue this tradition of making pottery today as one way they honor their ancestors.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • American Indian Pottery of North Carolina: Past and Present Slide Deck
    • American Indian Pottery of North Carolina: Past and Present Worksheet

American Indians of North Carolina and Tribal Seals
By: Anne Haugh (Penderlea Elementary, Pender County Schools)
4th Grade: Visual Arts and Social Studies

Overview of Lesson: Students will research the archaeological histories and contemporary cultures of the eight state-recognized American Indian tribes in North Carolina to explore how different tribal identities are reflected in the images and symbols used in the tribes’ seals. To create a personal connection with what they learn, each student will then design their own seal that represents their personal, family, or community identity.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Tribal Seals of the American Indians of North Carolina Slide Deck
    • Worksheet for American Indians of North Carolina and Tribal Seals

Name that Artifact!
By: Matt Daniel (Sam D. Bundy Elementary, Pitt County Schools)
5th Grade and Higher: Social Studies and English/Language Arts

Overview of Lesson: In groups of 3-5, students will analyze models of 3-D artifacts using the UNC Research Laboratories of Archaeology’s Ancient North Carolinians website. During analysis, students will make observations of their artifact–describing its characteristics, and using those descriptions to make predictions about what the artifact may have been used for. Students will share their predictions with the teacher, learn more about their particular artifact through a reading passage, and will record their findings in a slideshow to be shared with their classmates.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Artifact Prediction Graphic Organizer
    • Artifact Information Cards
    • Name That Artifact Student Slideshow

Site Excavation
By: Matt Daniel (School: Sam D. Bundy Elementary, Pitt County Schools)
5th Grade and Higher: Social Studies, Math, and English/Language Arts

Overview of Lesson: Through the Excavating Occaneechi Town online module on the Ancient North Carolinians website, students will learn the five-step procedure archaeologists follow during site excavation. Students will then conduct their own excavation process of a fictional site, plotting artifacts on a grid, and drawing conclusions about the lifeways of the people that lived there.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Sample Excavation Site and Post-Excavation Questionnaire- Student Copy
    • Sample Excavation Site and Post-Excavation Questionnaire- Teacher Copy
    • The Excavation Process Graphic Organizer- Student Copy
    • The Excavation Process Graphic Organizer- Teacher Copy

American Indian Archaeological Sites of North Carolina
By: Savannah Blystone (Gates County High School, Gates County Schools)
8th Grade: Social Studies
Overview of Lesson: In this lesson, students will gain a better understanding of ancient American Indians in North Carolina, especially the influences that geography and environment had and continue to have on settlements and lifestyles. Students will learn about the past through archaeology by focusing on one of the American Indian archeological sites. Teachers can either assign students a particular site or students can choose which site or time period they want to investigate on their own.

From Artifact to Art
By: Beverly Owens (Cleveland Early College High School, Cleveland County Schools)
Middle School or High School: Science, Social Studies and Art

Overview of Lesson: 3D printing is the perfect connection between science and art. Seeing artifacts in a museum is one thing, but holding an artifact in your hand is quite another. In this lesson, students will examine scans of archaeological artifacts, and will learn how to translate 3D scans into printable files. After 3D printing a replica of the artifact, students will be able to examine the artifact in person, as well as painting and adding structural detail. As an alternative, students may examine the digital artifact scans, and can use clay in order to replicate the artifact.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Notice and Wonder
    • Centuries Old Meets High Tech

Environmental Racism and the Tragedy of the Commons
By: Ley King-Bennett (The STEM Early College at NC A&T, Guilford County Schools)
10th-12th Grade: AP Environmental Science, Earth and Environmental Science; AP US History, American History 1 &2; AP Human Geography

Overview of Lesson: This lesson is designed to engage students with critical thinking regarding the environment, sustainability, and environmental racism and justice. The lesson focuses on an in-depth comparison between the widely accepted Western idea of the Tragedy of the Commons, championed by Garrett Hardin, and the experiences and knowledge of Indigenous peoples. Students are expected to engage in critical thinking and conversation to understand not just the anthropocentric idea of the Tragedy of the Commons, but also the inherent racism and injustice to Indigenous peoples and their knowledge that comes with the idea.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Background Builder Graphic Organizer

From Artifact to Art
By: Beverly Owens
School: Cleveland Early College High School, Cleveland County Schools
Middle School or High School: Science, Social Studies and Art

Overview of Lesson: 3D printing is the perfect connection between science and art. Seeing artifacts in a museum is one thing, but holding an artifact in your hand is quite another. In this lesson, students will examine scans of archaeological artifacts, and will learn how to translate 3D scans into printable files. After 3D printing a replica of the artifact, students will be able to examine the artifact in person, as well as painting and adding structural detail. As an alternative, students may examine the digital artifact scans, and can use clay in order to replicate the artifact.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Notice and Wonder
    • Centuries Old Meets High Tech

From Shakespeare to Siouan: An Investigation of European and American Indian Cultures
By: April Swarey (Elkin High School, Elkin City Schools)
9th and 10th Grade: English Language Arts

Overview of Lesson: In this lesson students will explore American Indian lifeways during Shakespeare’s lifetime, AD 1564-1616. They will compare American Indian culture during that general time period in North Carolina to that of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan England and consider what may have caused conflicts between the two groups following European settlement and colonization. We know what happened to Shakespeare, but what about the indigenous people his countrymen first met here in North Carolina in the 1500-1600s? And where are those American Indian communities today? Students will create presentations to teach their classmates about indigenous people in the past as well as contemporary American Indian tribes in North Carolina today using the Ancient North Carolinians website. Sources will be documented in MLA style. This lesson pairs well with the reading of one of Shakespeare’s plays.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Foods and Tools Comparison Chart

Identity through Storytelling
By: April Swarey (Elkin High School, Elkin City Schools)
9th and 10th Grade: English Language Arts

Overview of Lesson: Students will consider the many ways stories are communicated, not just through words, but also through material culture, to consider how identity is created based on the objects and architecture that surround us today and in the past. Archaeologists call these objects “artifacts” when referring to material culture recovered from an archaeological site where people once lived. This lesson will connect the past to the present by asking students to research ancient artifacts and then read a contemporary American Indian story. Students will then apply what they have learned to write their own stories based on an object/artifact or resource from their own lives. This lesson is placed at the end of a short story unit.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Short Story Analysis Organizer

Impacts of the Atlatl and Proving Their Effectiveness Mathematically
By: Stephanie Morgan (Pisgah High School, Haywood County Schools)
10th and 11th Grade: NC Math 3

Overview of Lesson: The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the atlatl, an instrument or spear-thrower used by American Indians in North Carolina to aid in hunting, and to examine this instrument from a mathematical perspective. In doing so, students will use prior knowledge of circles to understand the concept of arc length as well as construct the calculation necessary to determine arc length. This will lesson also lead to an understanding of radian measures, what they represent, and how these are connected to degree measurements.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Arc, Arc Length, and Sector Areas Worksheet

Modeling the Garden Creek Mounds
By: Stephanie Morgan (Pisgah High School, Haywood County Schools)
10th and 11th Grade: NC Math 3

Overview of Lesson: The Garden Creek mounds are located approximately 1.7 miles from Pisgah High School, along the Pigeon River near Canton in Haywood County, North Carolina. After learning about the history of the periods in which these mounds were constructed and the history behind them, students will model the amount of earth used to build these mounds with volume formulas for three-dimensional solids using dimensions provided on the Ancient North Carolinians website.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • 3D Solids and Volumes Worksheet
    • Graphic Organizer
    • Calculating Volume of Soil Removed Worksheet

Sustainable Agriculture in North Carolina
By: Ley King-Bennett (The STEM Early College at NC A&T, Guilford County Schools)
9th-12th Grade : AP Environmental Science, Earth/Environmental Science

Overview of Lesson: This lesson is designed to engage students in an exploration of the history and practice of sustainable agriculture in North Carolina. The focus is on the development of agriculture by Indigenous peoples and the impact the cultural shift that occurred with the influx of European settlers and the onset of heavily targeted cash crop use. Students will primarily focus on the impact of culture on land use and examine how sustainable agriculture as practiced by Indigenous groups could be a solution to declining soil quality and crop yield.

Sustainable Communities
By: Malia Crowe (Cherokee High School, Cherokee Central School)
9th-12th Grade: Earth and Environmental Science

Overview of Lesson: Students will explore the types of natural resources available and how these resources were used by American Indians in North Carolina during the past 1,000 years. They will compare and contrast past and contemporary sustainability to evaluate whether or not Indigenous natural resource management practices are still in use today. Research will be based on the Ancient North Carolinians website with students comparing their findings to their own ecological footprints.

This Land: Indigenous Lands in North Carolina
By: Savannah Blystone (Gates County High School, Gates County Schools)
9th-12th Grade: United States History, American History I or II

Overview of Lesson: Students will use online and print resources to learn about American Indians that lived, and continue to live, in North Carolina. Students will learn about the size of different tribal territories (some of which were vast) and the diversity in tribal lands and among the tribes themselves. Ideally, students will begin to question why American Indian tribes migrated, merged, or dispersed over time.

Ancient North Carolinians’ Foodways and Sustenance
By: Mark Dowling (Coastal Carolina Community College)
11th-14th Grade/Community College : CUL 230 Global Cuisines

Overview of Lesson: Integrating the study of Ancient North Carolinians’ foodways and food practices into classroom instruction provides a gateway to explore and connect the people who lived in North Carolina in the past with people who live in North Carolina today, including contemporary American Indians. Food and eating traditions of any group of people has always been a vital part of the sustenance and pleasures of family and community life.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Research Project Procedure Sheet

Ancient Tools of North Carolina
By: Katie Hoffer (Nash Community College)
11th-14th Grade/Community College: Humanities 120: Native American Cultural Studies (This lesson can also be used in high school and community college history and English courses.)

Overview of Lesson: This lesson focuses primarily on archaeological tools used by ancient indigenous North Carolinians in order to give students insights into and an appreciation for past and present-day technologies along with how these technologies have changed over time. Using the Ancient North Carolinians Virtual Museum website, students will research various tools once used and how those tools have been adapted and changed over time. They will also reflect on a modern tool that they use as students and reflect on how and why that tool has changed over time. Finally, students will compile their research notes and create a Google Site.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Ancient Tools Assignment Sheet
    • Self-Guided Note-Taking Sheet

Connecting the Past and the Present: Celebrating North Carolina’s American Indian Heritage
By: Ethan Brooks-Livingston (Catawba Valley Community College)
11th-14th Grade/Community College: North Carolina History, Native American History, Multicultural Education (This 15-week, semester-long project can be divided up into three core units, which can be used together, or as separate five stand-alone topic-focused lessons. The first unit is perhaps most easily adapted for elementary or middle grades; all three are appropriate for high school students.)

Overview of Lesson: To gain an understanding of American Indian and Ancient North Carolinians prior to the great changes wrought by the arrival of European settlers, students will begin by studying archaeological work done in the state since the 1980s, especially centering on the virtual exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History entitled North Carolina’s Earliest Peoples and European Contact and the University of North Carolina’s Research Laboratories of Archaeology virtual museum, Ancient North Carolinians: A Virtual Museum of North Carolina Archaeology. From information gathered through these online resources, students will make connections between artifacts and how they might have been used to create a framework for understanding daily life for American Indians. The second part of the project will focus student attention on several key areas of American Indian life in North Carolina, to include foodways, health, dance, spirituality, games, and other topics related to day-to-day existence. Students will work in research groups, using their findings to: create working three-dimensional models, host cooking demonstrations, teach a traditional game, showcase interviews with tribal representatives, or other creative projects that provide hands-on, practical illustrations of a key aspect of their chosen research concentration. Students will showcase their interactive projects in an open house to allow the larger school community to join in the atmosphere of learning.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Unit 1, Lesson 1 Take-Away Reflection Questions
    • Unit 1, Lesson 3 Virtual Artifact Observation Worksheet
    • Unit 2, Lesson 6 Group Brainstorming Worksheet
    • Interactive Project Peer Evaluations Rubric

Contemporary American Indian Tribes in North Carolina
By: Katie Hoffer (Nash Community College)
11th-14th Grade/Community College: Humanities 120: Native American Cultural Studies (This lesson can also be used in high school and community college history and English courses.)

Overview of Lesson: This lesson focuses on contemporary American Indian tribes in North Carolina to increase awareness of and build an appreciation for the tribes located in North Carolina. Students will select one of the eight state-recognized tribes in North Carolina, research the tribe via a graphic organizer, and then create a presentation about a challenge that the tribe is facing today or has faced in the past and what the tribe is doing or has done to remedy, change, or improve the situation.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Contemporary American Indian Assignment Sheet
    • Graphic Organizer
    • Contemporary NC Tribes Research Links

Current Foundations of American Indian Cuisine
By: Mark Dowling (Coastal Carolina Community College)
11th-14th Grade/Community College

Overview of Lesson: Students will learn about American Indians of North Carolina and discover American Indian foodways and cuisine. Students will also gain a better understanding of food-related issues impacting American Indian communities, including issues related to food sovereignty, nutrition and access to healthy food, and equity and food distribution. After viewing the elements related to these culinary cultures and traditions, students will develop a lab production scheme for American Indian cuisines representing the five culinary regions for service at a college or university restaurant.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Research Project Procedure Sheet

Knowing Our Neighbors: Acknowledging and Honoring Indigenous North Carolinian Histories
By: Ethan Brooks-Livingston (Catawba Valley Community College)
K-12 and Community College: North Carolina History, Native American History, Multicultural Education (This 15-week, semester-long project can be divided up into three core units, which can be used together, or as separate five stand-alone topic-focused lessons. The first unit is perhaps most easily adapted for elementary or middle grades; all three are appropriate for high school students.)

Overview of Lesson: Students will research the Indigenous peoples that once occupied the land on which they now live, work, or go to school, ultimately determining which of the eight state-recognized tribes lived in their region using the Ancient North Carolinians website. Focusing specifically on an area / county of North Carolina, students will investigate artifacts from archaeological digs and interpret the ancient lifestyles of the peoples that used the material culture exhibited on the website. Students will be given the opportunity to learn about the present-day cultures of Indigenous North Carolinians through a field trip to a powwow. Finally, with the knowledge and experiences they have spent the semester building, students will utilize the “Indigenous Land Acknowledgement” from the Native Governance Center website as a source for information to make connections between the sites they researched and/or visited, the Indigenous peoples that once occupied that land, and the present-day lives and locations of contemporary American Indians in North Carolina. In a final paper, students will grapple with the question of whether or not current occupants of the land should pay a voluntary land or honor tax to the Indigenous people whose land was taken from them, or whether there should be some other form of reparations made, and what that might look like.

  • Supplemental Documents:
    • Unit 1, Lesson 1 Research Worksheet
    • Unit 2, Lesson 3 Group Work- Rubric for Grading
    • Unit 2, Lesson 3 Peer Evaluation Form
    • Unit 2, Lesson 4 Pow Wow Reaction Worksheet
    • Unit 3, Lesson 5 Debate Rubric