My introduction lesson to “history” (versus Prehistory), is called “Ancient Archaeology.” I pretend to employ my class as archaeologists and as they have to go out and research four different art pieces:
I try to be really silly with this lesson and I will randomly “phone in” to my archaeologists on the ground (aka my students) to ask how their dig is going. I make sure to ask all these annoying questions about what their site looks like and pretend to be confused when they are vague with their descriptions. It feels silly but I constantly remind them that I can’t “see” the site and so they have to describe it to me so we can try to build function, content, and historical context before our “translators” get back with the written information.
With the ziggurat, I start with an areal view and kick us off by saying: “Ok you are now in the helicopter to be dropped on the ground of your archeological site. What do you see already that can help you understand the dig site?” My “archaeologists” then land on the top of the ziggurat from their imaginary helicopter and start “digging” when they find a cache of statues. They have to decide, without prior knowledge, what these statues were used for in the temple, solely based on their location and form.
After we visit the ziggurat and votive statues, we “fly” to a nearby palace. As they look at an aerial view of the apadana at Persepolis, I ask similar questions as when we were flying over the ziggurat. We focus on the over all structure and layout of the building and how we can determine function from that aerial view.
Once we land at the apadana, we look at the relief on the staircase showing the tribute nations. I have to give a lot more clues here because it’s just hard for them to see the different styles of dress and objects they are presenting. Once they figure out what the staircase relief shows, it’s an easy jump to how the artwork on the apadana supports its intended function.
The last image we see is the Lamassu, one of my students favorites. As they are describing the form I ask them to come up with personifications for each of the animal and humanoid shapes they see: what do you think of when you see a lion’s paw? Why is the head human and not another animal? Why does the animal have wings? Once they start to think of other attributes we still associate with these creatures, its pretty each to make the conclusion about the symbolic content here. I then show them a picture of the creatures in situ and tell them where they were located in the palace – they immediately understand how their form and content relate to their function.
Throughout the whole lesson, I let my students describe the overall form and then, via slow release, give them bits of information about other parts of FFCC so that by the end they have built an art analysis as a class with little direct help from me. I ask lots of clarifying and guiding questions via “phone calls” to my archaeologists. This is a great lesson to show them the power of looking deeply at an artwork! We finish the class with a discussion on how writing helps archeologist build information about a piece and I talk how we are now moving into the “historical period” in which we finally have writing about the pieces or cultures.