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 – The Amistad Incident and the Face of Slavery


TEACHER'S SNAPSHOT
Topic
Crime & Punishment, Law, Slavery & Abolition, Social Movements
Theme
The Struggle for Freedom, Equality, and Social Justice
Town
Farmington, New Haven, New London, Statewide
Related Search Terms
Slavery, Abolition, Amistad, Revolt
Social Studies Frameworks
Grade 8 – United States History

Historical Background
Most people in Connecticut in 1839 probably understood very little about Africa or Africans when the schooner La Amistad was brought into New London Harbor with dozens of Africans—Mende men, boys, and girls—on board. Even among those residents who supported the abolitionist cause, few had ever met a person born in Africa. Locals came to the prison in Westville (New Haven) and paid to gawk at the captives, who were awaiting trial. While in Westville, eleven-year-old Kale—one of the youngest of the Mende captives—studied English. Kale wrote to John Quincy Adams, who was to defend the Amistad Africans before the Supreme Court. Following the trial, the Mende lived with families in Farmington for eight months as they sought funds to return home to Africa.  The Cowles family supported the abolitionist movement and hosted one of the little girls from the Amistad. The letters written by Charlotte Cowles (who was about twenty-one at the time) to her brother Samuel reveal both her preconceived ideas and growing understanding of the Mende living in her community.

D1: POTENTIAL COMPELLING QUESTION

What role did the Amistad incident play in the abolitionist movement in the United States?

D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
  • What kinds of personal interactions did the Amistad Africans and Connecticut residents have?
  • In what ways did the Amistad incident help people in Connecticut—and in the United States—view enslaved Africans as “real people”?
  • How did these two young writers use language to elicit particular emotions about the Mende and their situation?
D2: TOOL KIT

Things you will need to teach this lesson.

amistad_kale_letter_pg1
Page 1 of a 4 page letter from Kale to John Quincy Adams, January 4, 1841. Written from Westville (New Haven), CT. – Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. Click on the letter above to access all 4 pages.
page Link to a more complete transcription here or download the transcription as a PDF.
Letter from Charlotte to Samuel Cowles, April 8, 1841
Page 1 of a 4 page letter from Charlotte to Samuel Cowles, April 8, 1841. Written from Farmington, CT – Connecticut Historical Society. Click on the letter above to access all 4 pages.
page Download the transcription of this letter as a PDF.
Letter from Charlotte to Samuel Cowles, April 12, 1841
Page 1 of 4 page letter from Charlotte to Samuel Cowles, April 12, 1841. Written from Farmington, CT – Connecticut Historical Society. Click on letter above to access all 4 pages.
page Download the transcription of this letter as a PDF.
D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY

Divide the class into pairs or groups and assign each group one of the three letters from the toolkit. The original letters are best viewed online. The transcriptions can be downloaded and printed.

Note that because of the length of the Charlotte Cowles letters, certain less-pertinent sections have been “greyed-out.” Students need not focus on those portions in their analysis.

Using SOAPSTone analysis, the Library of Congress Analyzing Primary Sources process, or another method of your choice, have students investigate their assigned source.

  • What can students KNOW from the source? What is the evidence?
  • What can they GUESS or infer? Based on what?
  • What does the source make them WONDER?

Students can then piece together their findings or rotate sources until each group has investigated each source.

Revisit the supporting and compelling question, as well as the questions students have developed and shared. Improve/fine-tune the new questions and discuss what other sources might exist to help answer these questions.

Once students have examined the letters, you may want to share portraits of some of the Mende people mentioned. Links to William H. Townsend’s drawings, John Warner Barber’s silhouettes and biographical sketches, and Nathaniel Jocelyn’s portrait of Cinque/Sengbe Pieh referenced by Charlotte Cowles can be found below in the “Additional Resources” section.

D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS
The Mende stayed in Farmington for months while they and their supporters worked to raise money to help them return to Africa. Writing from the perspective of Charlotte Cowles or one of the Mende children, students will write a letter to the editor of the Charter Oak, an abolitionist newspaper in Connecticut at the time, to convince the newspaper’s readers to contribute money to the cause.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Websites to VISIT

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