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  • Discover that archaeology and the study of artifacts give us information and an understanding of ancient lifestyles and cultures.
  • Develop the skills necessary to interpret artifacts and learn from them.
  • Learn how to assimilate written information, oral traditions, and archaeological evidence.
  • Appreciate the arts, culture, and technology of ancient China.
  • Correlate ancient Chinese history with that of the Western world.
  • Discover the importance of the horse in Chinese history.

Learning from Artifacts

Objects left by past cultures and civilizations can tell us many things about the people who used them and how they lived. Information on conditions of life, geography, climate, natural resources, technology, occupations, social customs, values, associated plants and animals, and family structure can all be gained by "reading" or interpreting artifacts.

It is archaeologists' job to find and interpret objects from past cultures. They then use the artifacts to make hypotheses about early people and their lifestyles. A hypothesis is an "educated guess" or explanation based on knowledge and previous experience. The hypothesis is then tested and proved right or wrong through time and new discoveries.

The interpretations that accompanied some of the artifacts in the Kentucky Horse Park's Imperial China: The Art of the Horse in Chinese History exhibit will illustrate this process of scientific research.


  1. Sharpen Your Research Skills (suggested as a pre-viewing activity)
    Choose several old objects (antiques) and discuss them with the class (use photographs if necessary). Suggestions: lighting fixtures, cooking utensils, clothing, tools, containers, small pieces of furniture, toys, educational materials. Describe each object: color, texture, size, shape, material. Ask these questions: Who would have used it? How or under what circumstances would it have been used? What is it made of? Is it decorative or useful, or both? What does it tell us about the person or people who made it? What geography, climate, natural resources, technology, ways of making a living, or social customs does the object suggest? Is the object still in use? Why or why not?

  2. Interpret Your Culture (suggested as a pre-viewing activity)
    Have each student bring in an object from his or her own room. It should be something unique to that person; suggestions might include a book, statue, picture, item of clothing or jewelry, memento, small piece of furniture, etc. The objects will be handled, so caution the students not to bring in anything very valuable or fragile. Also, ask the students not to tell anyone else in the class about their objects. Number each object and display it on a table or shelf. Divide the students into teams. Assign or allow each team to choose objects (not including their own). On index cards, have the students identify each object and write a detailed description of it (size, color, material, age, use, etc.). Lastly, ask the students to make hypotheses about the owner and his or her lifestyle. Have them list such things as gender, age, nationality, hobbies, interests, travel, experience, talent, and goals. They will need to "defend" or give reasons for their hypotheses and interpretations. Each team presents its "findings" and hypotheses to the class. At the end of the presentation, ask the owner of the object to comment on the accuracy of the report.

  3. Afterlife
    Have a discussion on the belief in afterlife by ancient civilizations. The artifacts found in burial chambers have given us a wealth of information about early people and their cultures. The emperors of China filled their tombs with everything they believed they would need in the afterlife. Ask the students to make a list of things they would take with them if they were moving to the wilderness where there were no stores and no other people. Compare the lists and discuss what the objects tell us about our culture and lifestyle. Are the objects necessary for survival, are they for comfort, or are they materialistic? How will future societies learn about our present culture? How are we preserving information about our culture? Discuss landfills, libraries, museums, electronic information, etc. Who is deciding what to preserve? How long will it remain preserved? Are our values changing? What about our environment?

  4. Design Your Tomb
    Because tombs were designed for the comfort and safety of the deceased in the afterlife, the objects they contain tell us a great deal about life in ancient times. Have students list the objects they would have placed in their tombs to ensure their comfort and safety in the afterlife. Compile a master list of objects for the class. Arrange them in order of popularity. What does the list tell us about our present lifestyle? Were any of these same objects in the emperor's tomb? Why or why not?

Kentucky Horse Park
International Museum of the Horse

The Millennium's First Great
International Exhibition

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