Unearthing Ancient Greece

How do we know what we do about life in ancient Greece?


Key Staff

History teacher

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving


Students will discover that what we know of ancient Greece has come to us mainly through the analysis of artifacts recovered in archeological digs. Students will survey a “virtual” ancient Greece dig site, searching for “clues” to support or challenge assertions about ancient Greek life.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Acquire understanding of the roles archeology and cultural anthropology play in reconstructing history.
  • Practice the process of "reading" an artifact.
  • Collect graphic examples of a range of ancient Greek artifacts.
  • Analyze and arrange graphic material into a working “virtual” dig site.
  • write and perform a monologue from the perspective of a resident of Sir Thomas More's Utopia.

Teaching Approach

Arts Inclusion

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Hands-On Learning

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
  • Printer
Technology Notes

Students will need to be able to access web sites where they will find examples of ancient Greek art and artifacts.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

This lesson is designed to bring students in general touch with archaeological evidence from which the knowledge of ancient Greece has been retrieved.

Prior Student Knowledge

  • A basic knowledge of how artifacts are excavated and interpreted would be helpful.
  • Understanding of Greek values, ideals and history will be beneficial to students. By examining art, artifacts and architecture, the Greek values of order, balance and harmony will become clear as will the culture’s emphasis on the perfect physical form.

Physical Space



  • Small Group Instruction
  • Large Group Instruction


  • Write the list of the artifact types on the board and circulate handouts in for information on each type of the above artifacts.
  • Pre-cut several long pieces of butcher paper and affix to the wall or board for the “dig site.” Approximately seven vertical lines should be drawn on the paper delineating centuries (the number of sections will be determined by how many centuries’ worth of art and visual culture you want to cover).

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Provide a few objects or artifacts that present a challenge to "decode."

2. Have students "read" each artifact. Distribute the How to Read an Artifact handout located within the Resource Carousel. Students should discuss the original purpose or use of the object, whether it would have been used by upper or lower class people, and what can be learned from it.

Build Knowledge

1. Have students research two or three artifacts of their choosing from ancient Greece. Students can use the Helpful Web Resources as starting points for their research. Some types of artifacts (listed in the Types of Artifacts handout) they could research include:

  • Manuscripts that include maps, sketches, manuals, philosophical treatises, written copies of orations, dialogues, historical accounts, a wealth of great literature in various genres
  • Vase paintings (small vases, large urns, amphoras)
  • Carvings on and design of other pottery, such as cups
  • Architectural ruins of temples, palaces, theatres, houses, other structures
  • Funerary monuments, tombs
  • Small statutes
  • Carvings on temple friezes, plaques, tiles, sanctuaries
  • Picture writing on frescoes, sarcophagus
  • Sculptures
  • Artifacts such as sculpted coins, jewelry, weapons, shields

Explain that the primary goal of the assignment is to collect examples of ancient Greek artifacts (copies of print media; downloaded copies from Web). These copies will be assembled on a large panoramic display board (or for a large class, three or four display boards placed around the room to avoid congestion) and will serve as a "virtual" archeological dig site for scholarly research "detective" work on ancient Greece.

2. Have students complete Artifact Information worksheet, located within the Resource Carousel, for each artifact they research. Students will need to print out an image of their artifact in addition to collecting some basic data.


1. Working in pairs, students will use evidence from the artifacts they collected from the internet to determine answers to the questions in the Ancient Greek Artifact Analysis handout. A hard copy is available in the Resource Carousel:

  • Was music an important part of Greek life?
  • Were the Greeks fierce warriors?
  • Did the Greeks value luxury items?
  • Were the Greeks a seafaring people?
  • How were the notions of order, balance, and symmetry demonstrated in Greek architecture?
  • Does Greek sculpture portray emotion?
  • What was the role of women in Ancient Greek life?
  • How was the Greeks’ interaction with nature reflected in art?
  • What relationships existed between the gods and humans as evidenced in Greek art?
  • What are some things that seem to be particularly valued in Ancient Greek life?
  • What evidence is there of a well-developed level of technology?
  • What can be determined about social interactions and class structures?


1. Students will conduct an “archaeological dig site” on the walls of the classroom by affixing their artifacts to a large roll of paper in chronological order.

2. Students will work together to answer the questions on the Ancient Greek Artifact Analysis worksheet, located within the Resource Carousel, based on the chronology of ancient Greek art they have created.

3. Students will then select one of the objects they researched and write a brief essay, an Essay Prompt for which is available in the Resource Carousel, about how that artifact reflects the history, values and ideals of ancient Greek civilization.


Students will demonstrate:

  • An understanding of the development of artistic styles in ancient Greece.
  • An understanding of how Greek art and architecture reflected the history, values and ideals of their society.

Resources for this step:

Ancient Greek Artifact Analytical Essay Assignment and Rubric

Extend the Learning

If time allows, invite an archeologist to make a presentation to the class on "How to Read an Artifact." (Museums, historical societies, universities, county archeologists in areas dedicated to preserving historical sites, for instance, may be able to provide a specialist for that purpose. Check those in your local area. If you live in the Washington D.C. area, the Smithsonian used to have a staff member they would send out in the greater Washington area to prepare students for museum visits.)

If an archeological dig is underway in the school area, consider scheduling a field trip to observe the processes of dig, recover, and "read." In some places, students can be active participants in the process (the London Town site in Annapolis, Maryland, for instance).


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
Visual Arts

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

National Standards in Other Subjects

Geography Standard 10: Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics


Science Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry

World History

World History Standard 3: Understands the major characteristics of civilization and the development of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley



Jayne Karsten
Original Writer

Daniella Garran
Original Writer

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