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Ancient Art of Native Americans: Lesson & Project

By Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

This lesson plan on ancient Native American art will have students explore the meaning behind the art. Learning the who, what, when, where, why and how behind ancient artwork enables the students to fully understand the culture and time.

Art with a Purpose

Ancient world art had very significant purposes. The purpose went beyond simply creating something beautiful. The art of the ancient world, told stories, memorialized great kings, queens and heroes, as well as embellished utilitarian items, such as vases, pots, funeral masks.

Ancient Art of Native Americans

Age Group: High School

Objective: To give students an insight into the Native American culture, discover the diversity through the art and find connections with the art of other ancient cultures. This lesson plan is designed to teach students about diversity as well as demonstrates the uncanny links cultures have from half way around the world.

Prior Knowledge: Ask students to name some of the forms of artwork credited to Native America Peoples. Ask if they can think of other cultures that also utilized this form of art. Make a list of their answers. (Answers that could be expected would be beadwork, masks, cave paintings, sand painting, or pottery.) Provide some pictures of ancient Native American art for the students to review.

Assignment: Students will be required to research a Native American culture and one another ancient world culture. They will decide upon one art form found in the Native American culture of their choosing, compare it to the same type of art form from another ancient world culture, plan a presentation on their findings and create their own example of the art form and write a reflective paper on what they learned about the two cultures.

Assessment: Students will be assessed on the thoroughness of their investigation, the presentation to the class, originality, creativity and their ability to demonstrate their understanding of the art form.

Example

The two ancient cultures: Mayan and Egyptian

Art form: pyramids

Comparisons: Both cultures use created pyramids. The Egyptians used them as tombs. They Mayans used their pyramids as temples as well as burial chambers. Burial chambers in both cultures contained treasures. The roof combs (pagoda like structures) on top of Mayan pyramids could be seen for miles. Both cultures carved and painted the burial chambers.

750px-Uxmal 

Presentation: PowerPoint or poster presentation of the two types of pyramids will be given. Presentation would include pictures showing a burial chamber for each. Discussion on any similar patterns found in both cultures.

Student could build a model of modern day pyramid, perhaps on that would sustain terraced agriculture, or house an entire village with all the stores, schools, facilities needed.

800px-Egyptian Pyramids 

 

Elementary and Middle School

Teachers in elementary and middle school can modify this ancient world art lesson plan for the younger students simply by picking one art form and the two cultures beforehand. Students could be tasked with creating an example of the art form the teacher has chosen. For instance, The First Peoples of the Northwest Coast used masks in ceremonies, as did the ancient African peoples. Student could make masks based on the designs and patterns in the masks from these two cultures. Discussion could include finding similarities and differences.

Ancient Native American Art

Many Native American Cultures have had their artwork preserved. Some of the most ancient are:

  • Mayan
  • Inca
  • Anasazi
  • Mississippian
  • Fremont
  • First Peoples of the Northwest Coast

Resources for Teachers and Students

The following websites offer excellent information on Ancient Native American Art.

  • http://www.artic.edu/artaccess/AA_Amerindian/index.html
  • http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/petitjean3.html
  • http://www.native-languages.org/quillwork.htm
  • http://www.artsmia.org/viewer/index.php?v=12&dept=8&op=1449

Resources for other ancient world cultures include:

  • Egypt - http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/menu.html
  • Greece - http://www.ancientgreece.co.uk/
  • China - http://www.ancientchina.co.uk/menu.html
  • India - http://www.ancientindia.co.uk/
  • Africa - http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/africa/
  • Australia - http://www.aboriginalculture.com.au/introduction.shtml