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Grades 6-8
How have the Egyptians thrived in a land of sand and water for thousands of years? What do the place where people chose to live and the way in which they structure their society around it say about those people? In this lesson students will explore how geographical features, both physical and cultural, of a place can give us insights into the lives of the people who have settled there, with Egypt as the primary example. Students will use maps to examine the design and location of ancient Egypt's tombs and pyramids. They will examine cultural and geographic evidence as clues for understanding the structure and placement of these historical landmarks. They will then explore the implications of caring for these structures in the future.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, world history, anthropology, architecture
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 1: "How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective"
Standard 4: "The physical and human characteristics of places"
Standard 6: "How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions"
Standard 12: "The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement"
Standard 15: "How physical systems affect human systems"
Standard 17: "How to apply geography to interpret the past"
Two to three hours

Materials Required:
  • Computer with Internet access
Students will
  • understand how geographical features, both physical and cultural, of an area can give us insights into the societies that live and work there;
  • use maps to explore the design and location of ancient Egypt's tombs and pyramids;
  • use cultural and geographic clues to determine the significance of the structure and placement of these landmarks; and
  • explore the ways in which geography will affect the care of these landmarks in the future.
Geographic Skills:
Asking Geographic Questions
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Have students visit the interactive Satellite Spyglass in Xpedition Hall by clicking on Standard 5. Direct them to zoom in and read the accompanying text at each magnification level. As they zoom in closer, they should think about what clues, if any, are present to provide information about the society that created the city. Some guiding questions include:
  • What physical features of the landscape might make people want to live there?
  • What does the way people have organized their use of the land suggest about what is important to them?
  • What natural benefits or protections might the land provide? What problems or dangers might exist? How does the society appear to take these into consideration?
  • What does the organization of the structures of this in this culture suggest about how densely populated it is?
  • Does anything about the landscape suggest what people in this culture might like to do for recreation?
Have students use this interactive tool to take notes on the physical (naturally occurring) and cultural (human-made) characteristics of three different locations.

After students have completed the interactive activity, bring the class back together for a discussion of what clues landmarks (i.e., human and physical features on the landscape) can provide about a region's culture and geography. Ask students to apply what they learned about using landmarks and geography as clues to a culture by considering what types of landmarks were visible in the satellite photos. What do such landmarks imply about the culture who built them? Some answers might include:

  • The intricate road structure may imply that the culture is well organized and highly mobile.
  • The "mall" area in the center of the city shows several important government institutions, suggesting that this culture relies heavily on law an order.
  • Since the city is built on a river, this culture may ship many goods.

Activity 1
Tell students that as in the Satellite Spyglass example, they will be exploring the structure and location of landmarks in ancient Egyptian cities to determine what they reveal about the region's culture and geography. As they did in the previous interactives, they will need to ask themselves questions about the landscapes regarding the significance of landforms and structures and what these things might reveal about the people who lived there. Students should consider the materials used to create the landmark as well as what the landmark depicts. Organize students into the following groups:
  • Valley of the Kings
  • Saqqara
  • Giza
Tell each group that their mission is to piece together information about the culture and geography of their assigned location, just like they did in the opening part of the lesson.

Valley of the Kings Web sites:
Theban Mapping Project
Expedition: Ancient Egypt
Monuments and Sites of Ancient Egypt

Saqqara Web sites:
Saqqara, City of the Dead
Saqqara Online
Egyptology Online: Saqqara

Giza Web sites:
Pyramid Builders' Village Found in Egypt
Explore the Pyramids
The Giza Plateau

As they explore the Web sites, groups should focus on the following guiding questions:

  • Describe the site’s location (near a river, on a hill, etc.)
  • Why do you think this site was chosen?
  • What do the structures look like?
  • What purpose did they serve?
  • What can you deduce about ancient Egyptian culture from the placement, style, and use of each structure?
When groups have finished their research, students should create brief presentations designed to teach the rest of the class about the site they studied. At a minimum, these should provide answers to the guiding questions listed above. After groups have shared their information, lead a class discussion about the significance of the placement, style, and purpose of the landmarks studied. What do they reveal about ancient Egyptian culture? What do they reveal about the religion of ancient Egypt people? Their way of life? How did geography affect the placement of the various landmarks?

Activity 2
Explain to students that their research has earned them the honorific title of "Geography and Culture Expert" for an important university in modern Egypt. They are assigned to work on a recent discovery from an archaeological dig outside the city of Cairo. Researchers unearthed an ancient scroll, which appears to contain information about several locations sacred to ancient Egyptians. Their job is to use their knowledge of ancient Egyptian geography and landmarks to decipher the information in the scroll. Explain to the students that they will work with their archeological and historical teams to solve the mystery of the Egyptian scroll.

Because the document is so fragile, the forensics team has scanned it into the computer. It is available for the scientists to review online . Additionally, at their disposal are all of the resources available on Nationalgeographic.com , The Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology , and The Ancient Egypt Site .

Divide the students into groups of three to have them decipher the information on the scroll .

When groups have successfully deciphered the scroll, have the class compare their results.

Have students read this article on how physical processes affect human systems and, as a class, discuss the ways in which the geography of the sites studied in this lesson may affect their future care. Ask students the following questions:
  • Do they think any of the sites they studied may be threatened as a result of the geography of their location? If so, how?
  • What can scientists do to preserve them?
Suggested Student Assessment:
Form new student groups, ensuring that each group is composed of at least one member from each of the original groups. Tell students to pool the information they gathered earlier to design a 10-day tour of the ancient Egyptian sites they studied. They can use the interactive print press to create a brochure highlighting their tour, which should include a map of the locations it covers, along with information about the location, design, and significance of the landmarks.
Extending the Lesson:
  • Have students explore the pyramids using this National Geographic interactive .

  • Students can take a virtual tour of Egyptian landmarks here .

  • Have students design a tomb or monument that reflects ancient Egyptian culture. This can be done a number of ways—drawing, painting, using papier mâché, using modeling clay, etc. Have each student write a brief explanation of their monument on an index card that will accompany the artwork.
Related Links: