HS – Is That a Mastodon?! A Case Study in Civic Responsibility

Hill-Stead workers and overseer Allen Cook, ca. 1913

by Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington, CT


TEACHER'S SNAPSHOT
Topic
Science, Historic Preservation, Exploration and Discovery
Theme
Civic Engagement
Town
Farmington, Washington, Statewide
Related Search Terms
Archaeology, Ice Age, Mastodon, Local History, Civic Duty, Historic Preservation, Debate
Social Studies Frameworks
High School – Civics and Government

Historical Background
In 1913 a mastodon skeleton was accidentally discovered on the grounds of the Pope estate (Hill-Stead) in Farmington, Connecticut. This activity takes that historic event as inspiration for a classroom debate based on a fictional case study and a discussion about civic responsibility and preservation.

D1: POTENTIAL COMPELLING QUESTION

To what extent are we, as citizens and communities, responsible for scientifically and/or historically significant finds on public property?

D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
  • How do we best preserve animal remains such as dinosaurs, Ice Age animals, and other animal specimens, which are not affiliated with any particular group of people?
  • Who should be responsible for the physical and financial maintenance of these specimens?
  • What is our responsibility to ensure finite resources, such as the skeletons of extinct animals, are available for future generations?
  • To what extent is the discussion different if the find is a man-made artifact rather than a natural specimen?
D2: TOOL KIT

Things you will need to teach this lesson.

For Part I: Debate

page Download the Perspectives for Debate pdf
Mastadon skeleton on display
Mastodon skeleton on display at the Institute for American Indian Studies.

For Part II: The Pope Hill-Stead Mastodon

Museum men with Hill-Stead helpers, overseer Allan Cook
“Museum men with Hill-Stead helpers, overseer Allan Cook in lower right,” ca. September, 1913 – Institute for American Indian Studies

 

Yale-Peabody Preparator Mr. Darby posing with the tibia and fibula
Yale-Peabody Preparator Mr. Darby posing with the tibia and fibula articulated together, ca. 1913 – Institute for American Indian Studies

 

Hill-Stead workers and overseer Allen Cook, ca. 1913
Hill-Stead workers and overseer Allen Cook (far right), ca. 1913. Worker on far left is holding the left humerus. The mandible is resting on a barrel in the center. Worker next to Mr. Cook is holding the second vertebra from the skull, axis – Institute for American Indian Studies

 

Yale-Peabody Preparator Mr. Darby wrapping a bone in plaster before transport
Yale-Peabody Preparator Mr. Darby wrapping a bone in plaster before transport to New Haven, CT, ca. 1913 – Institute for American Indian Studies
D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY

Part I: Debate

This activity involves a debate around the following fictional scenario. A complete mastodon skeleton has been unearthed in your town, on town-owned property, and a decision must be made as to who will care for it and where it will be stored. There are parameters which must be met in order to properly maintain the condition of the mastodon.

  • The bones are very large and will require a considerable amount of storage space, roughly 300 square feet. An image of a mastodon skeleton on display is included in the toolkit to give students a sense of the size of these bones and the space that they take.
  • It is important to note that these are bones and not fossils. The bones must be kept at a consistent temperature and humidity level to prevent cracking and slow decomposition.
  • The bones must be covered to prevent dust or debris from entering any cracks or imperfections within the bones, which would cause the cracks/imperfections to enlarge.
  • Each bone must be periodically examined and checked for any developing deterioration, which would need to be addressed by qualified professionals as soon as possible, or the bones will begin to decay.

Since the remains were found on town land, they belong to the town, and the town must decide what to do with them. Students will research and argue a variety of viewpoints (See Perspectives for Debate document) in a town meeting-style debate. The goal of this activity is to have students decide on the best course of action, knowing that the specimen will require continual maintenance and monitoring in order to preserve it indefinitely and that this will have an impact on town resources.

There are two options for setting up the debate:

Option 1) Assign students to specific roles that they will research and represent in a town hall-style debate, with the goal of convincing a majority of the class to vote on a specific course or plan of action.

Option 2) Assign students to specific roles, but have another class act as town members in a town hall-style debate. At the end of this debate the “town members” will vote on the course of action they found the most convincing.

Part II: The Pope Hill-Stead Mastodon

The second part of this activity involves an exploration of the true historical incident that inspired the fictional debate, the accidental discovery in 1913 of a mastodon skeleton on the grounds of the Pope estate (Hill-Stead) in Farmington, Connecticut. A selection of historic photographs from the excavation and a short history of the Pope Hill-Stead mastodon are included in the toolkit above. After familiarizing themselves with the Pope Hill-Stead case, students will discuss how finding a mastodon skeleton in 1913 might have been different than finding one today and what questions are raised if a specimen is discovered on private property, rather than public property.

D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS

Cultural preservation has taken many different forms over the course of our history. At one time, private individuals had almost free rein to collect and/or display objects of interest in whatever way they saw fit. The struggle between what is considered “progress” and safeguarding the past often pitts developers against preservationists. The rights of Native Americans to retain their cultural material (including human remains) was not officially recognized until the later part of the 20th century. There is now a growing understanding, however, that multiple perspectives need to be considered when making decisions about preserving our diverse history and culture.

Have students investigate two federal laws in place for the protection of cultural materials in the United States: the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.

Federal law does not currently address the preservation of extinct animals, such as the mastodon in this case study. Using what they have learned through this activity and their investigations of the two existing federal laws, have students draft a letter to a legislator arguing whether or not animal specimens should be protected by preservation laws as well.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Places to GO
Things to DO
Websites to VISIT
Articles & Books to READ

Grade 8 – Venture Smith: From Slavery to Connecticut Businessman

by Khalil Quotap
Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington


TEACHER'S SNAPSHOT
Topic
Slavery & Abolition
Theme
The Struggle for Freedom, Equality, and Social Justice
Town
East Haddam, Stonington, Statewide
Related Search Terms
Enslaved, Primary Sources, Archaeology, Local History
Social Studies Frameworks
Grade 8 – United States History
D1: POTENTIAL COMPELLING QUESTION

How can a former slave prosper in a colony where slavery is legal?

D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
  • How can objects be used to support written accounts of historical events?
  • What kind of life could a former slave expect to have in the Connecticut colony in the late 1700s?
  • What is a primary source? Secondary? And how can they be used in research?
D2: TOOL KIT

Things you will need to teach this lesson.

Boat caulking iron
Boat caulking iron
Boat caulking iron
Boat caulking iron

Boat Caulking Iron

Identified by Dr. William Peterson, senior curator, and Quentin Snediker, director of the shipyard, at Mystic Seaport. Both were pleased to confirm that site structures and artifacts demonstrate Venture Smith’s mariner activities.

Piece of an early glass bottle
Piece of an early glass bottle
Shards of 19th century ceramics
Shards of 19th century ceramics
Incised bone handle
Incised bone handle
Domestic Artifacts: These objects have been excavated in and around structures at the Smith Homestead dig site. These materials include an incised bone knife handle, early bottle glass and a variety of 18th and early 19th century ceramics.

 

Click to open PDF

Timeline of Venture Smith’s life created for a presentation by Lucianne Lavin, Ph.D.

 

 

D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY

Students will read a brief summary of Venture Smith’s history and examine the artifact images found on the Smith Homestead dig site. They will use the information from the artifact to support their findings.

  • What do the artifacts tell about the person who lived there?
  • How can you be sure the artifacts are real?
  • Based on what the artifacts found, how do you think the family lived during the late 1700s?
  • How does this change the way you think of how minorities were treated in the past?
  • What does this tell you about the general population in Connecticut and their view of minorities during the late 1700s?
D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS
  • Have students share their specific evidence in response to the compelling and supporting questions.
  • Inquiry projects
    • What types of discrimination or challenges would former slaves face?
    • What employment or occupations might a former slave expect to find?
    • How was life at sea an option for former slaves?
  • Compare the experiences of immigrants today with former slaves in the colonies.
  • Have students bring an artifact from home and ask: “What would historians think about life now based on the artifacts we would leave behind?”
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Places to GO
Things to DO
Websites to VISIT
Articles to READ