Kid’s Activities

Here are some fun and informative activities your students can do to learn about environmental archaeology! (By Kara Mattsen)

Make your own Archaeological Site with Sand Layers!

Image result for sand art in a bottle
Image from


Learning Goal: Teach children soil deposition and stratigraphy, and how these can be used to determine date, while creating a beautiful craft!

Audience: Children 7 to 13


  1. Multicolored sand, I would suggest at least 3 colors, but there is no limit! Just make sure you get enough in volume for all of the containers you want to fill.
    1. Working with younger kids or worried about the mess? You could also use crumpled up tissue paper or colorful cotton balls, just make sure they make layers with the same color.
  2. Clear glass or plastic containers. These are where you will hold the layers so try to get tall and skinny ones if you are using sand.
  3. Funnels
  4. Small plastic objects to put in some of the layers, at least 3 per child.
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Slightly 2D objects like these would be best! Image from


  1. Set up your stations – depending on your group, this might include giving each kid a little bit of sand or to keep the sand at one station.
  2. Start with an introduction to the topic of deposition and stratigraphy.
    1. Deposition is how new layers of soil collects on the ground. When artifacts are left on the ground, they can be covered in new layers of soil. By looking at where these artifacts appear in relation to others in the stratigraphy, we are able to date these objects.
    2. Also, explain what each child will be doing.
  3. Create the stratigraphy
    1. Put a few layers of sand in the containers as a base, using the funnel. In a few of the layers, put the plastic objects up against the side of the wall, so that you will be able to see them even when covered with sand (for this reason, objects that are very 3D might not be the best choice, and you might have to try and hold it against the wall with a stick to make sure they show up). Put a few more regular layers in between this object layer and the next object layer. Repeat as many times as needed. Seal the container when ready, and be careful not to shake!
  4. When all the children are done, divide them into groups or pairs and have them discuss which objects in their personal containers are older and which are younger.
    1. The ones that they put in the bottle first, lower in the container, will be ‘older,’ while the ones closest to the top are the ‘youngest.’
  5. Want to talk about how archaeological sites can be destroyed? No problem. Make your own bottle archaeological site, and at the front of the room show different ways it can be destroyed. Want to discuss erosion? Pour some water on it. Human disturbance? Run a fork through it a few times t mimic how farming equipment can combine layers. Dig out three layers and plop a tiny house down. This will teach them about how fragile these sites are and how they need to be preserved carefully so that they can be studied. 
  6. At the end of the class you can have everyone seal and secure their creations and take them home or display them in your classroom. This activity is fun, informative, and turns out beautiful!


Tree Ring Puzzle!

Learning Goals: Learn how to date objects with tree rings and apply this with a fun puzzle. 

Audience: 10 and up

Things you need:

  1. Tree ring puzzle pieces, as many as you want for the timeline of cores, and then one artifact core. 
    1. You can make your own by making a master pattern of tree ring patterns. This can be as long as you want, for how long your puzzle will be. Then you draw in lines that represent the tree rings, so these should be in varying patterns, varying sizes, and varying distances from each other. Then, make your puzzle pieces by making multiple strips of paper. Copy the master pattern onto these strips so each end of the strips (except first and last strips) overlaps and copies the end of the previous strip. The main idea is to have a continuous sequence of “tree rings” (different sized stripes) overlapping over many different “cores” (strips of paper). Make the artifact core from any pattern in the timeline. The artifact core is what the students will be placing within the timeline they create, so keep these separate.
  2. I have made a sample version that you are welcome to use if you wish, but it is very small. They are in chronological order, so make sure you cut these out before handing them out!  (Documents by Kara Mattsen)
  3. Examples of tree rings for the students to handle


  1. Set this up by talking about the rings in a tree. This would be a great time to bring in examples of tree rings and have the kids handle them. You should also explain how trees grow wider as time goes buy, and this creates ring in their trunks. However, these are influenced by environmental factors, so the same trees in the same geographic area and since this can be consistent over multiple trees, the pattern of tree rings can give us a timeline.
  2. Divide the children into groups and give them each their own puzzle. Instruct them to try and create the timeline of the puzzle by finding matching ends of the cores. Once they have done this, check their work with your key.
  3. Give them the artifact core (dark purple) and have them place it into the sequence. In this case, the artifact core has the same pattern as between the red and blue cores, so this is where it belongs in the sequence.
  4. Ask the students and have them discuss in their groups. How old is the dark purple artifact core compared to the light purple? Have them explain their rational for placing it here and how they know.
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Some real tree cores used in dendrochronology. Image from