Lydia Haile Fassett

About Lydia Haile Fassett

Lydia is the Editor of CANEPress and is currently on maternity leave from teaching Latin and Classics at Academy Hill School in Springfield, MA. Her research interests include the use of technology in the classroom, Roman textiles, the Classical tradition, and Suetonius. Follow her on Twitter via @magistrahf.

Classifying Artifacts: a classroom activity

Classifying Artifacts: a classroom activity for students

by Susann Lusnia
Associate Professor of Classical Studies
Executive Director, Center for Engaged Learning & Teaching
Tulane University

I teach courses on Roman art and material culture to undergraduates at Tulane University in New Orleans. Roman archaeology courses attract students of all backgrounds and interests, and therefore, one of the challenges is that students arrive in the courses with different levels of preparation in archaeology, ancient history, or art history. Most are not majoring in classics but are using these courses to fulfill general education requirements.

In an ideal world, I want them to leave class knowing a great deal about antiquity, but from a practical standpoint, what I really hope is that I can teach them about proper use of evidence, its analysis and interpretation. As an archaeologist, the ideal way for me to teach about evidence and analysis would be through artifacts, site tours, or museum visits. Although we have some good museums in New Orleans, none has a Roman art/artifact collection. So, how does one give students a “hands-on” experience in archaeological practice? In my case, I created a classroom activity using bendable toy figures, purchased using a small grant.

The goal of the activity was to introduce students to the concepts involved in the classification of archaeological artifacts by having them engage in a practical example. The bendable toys, of many types and colors, stood in for ancient artifacts in this exercise. (Note: you could use other objects such as hardware – different types of screws, nails, washers, nuts, etc.)


For the exercise I prepared bags of 20-25 figures (Fig. 1), and before class began, I positioned these on the tables, along with blank worksheets for students to use during the exercise. Before starting the exercise, I went over some basic terms (type, material, shape, decoration) and practices related to the classification of artifacts.

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I talked about hierarchy in the description of artifacts (Fig. 2). Students were then instructed to sort the objects in their bags devising at least two different classification systems. I left it to the groups to decide what the criteria for each of these would be, and we would discuss their choices and reasoning afterwards.


Instructions were projected on screen (Fig. 3), and I allowed about 10 minutes for the first sorting, and then another 5 – 10 for the second sorting. (Fig. 4)


After all groups had sorted their objects twice and filled out the worksheets – one sheet for each sorting method – I invited the groups to share and discuss their sorting criteria. The obvious choices that I expected to see were sortings done by shape type (animal, human, etc.) and by color. In fact, some of the students were quite creative, using a variety of classification methods, such as “necks” vs. “no-necks.”

Discussion of the range of criteria led into my lecture on how and why archaeologists establish norms for object classification. In addition to helping students understand how archaeologists classify objects for study, I wanted them to think about the role artifact assemblages (groups of objects found in the same structure, grave, etc.) in identifying spaces, their occupants, and the use of those spaces. I think the exercise was successful, in that it gave students a hands-on experience for understanding the development of typologies and the need for consistent criteria if one hopes to do comparative studies of objects.

Now that I have the materials needed for this exercise – sufficient to use in a class of up to 40 students – I will definitely work to include it on a regular basis in other courses as well, such as my Roman art & archaeology and Etruscans courses. In the future, I hope that I can adjust/expand the exercise to include a component that prompts students to compare the objects from one group to another, to ask questions about relationships between “locations” (each bag of objects representing a location) to help them see how archaeologists approach the study of trade, production, and commerce through artifacts and their distribution.

The activity is scalable for most any class size and is suitable for pre-collegiate students. You might need to explain the terms differently and perhaps skip the hierarchy of the descriptors if used in a middle school classroom. Learning about classification starts in pre-k and kindergarten, so the concepts are not foreign. The goal is learning how to take this basic skill to a new level.

For anyone who wants to try this, here are some recommendations:

You need a variety of “artifact” types, at least 5 or 6, to make the exercise challenging and interesting.

2. Make random groupings – but it’s also good to plant one or two odd objects in each group to create a challenge. I spread everything out on a big conference table. (Fig. 5)

3. If you have a classroom where desks can be moved together or you have tables that students can sit around, wonderful. If not (e.g., if you teach in fixed-seat lecture room), think creatively about how you might move students around for this, or hold the class in another, more suitable venue for that one session, if possible. I booked a room in our student center where I could get small round tables with four chairs each, and that was perfect for the 35 students in my class. Larger classes will face more logistical problems.

Bibliography & Resources

Miller, Peter N. 2014. “How Objects Speak,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 11 August 2014. Online article at (Last accessed on 08 July 2015).

Rouse, Irving. 1960. “The Classification of Artifacts in Archaeology,” in American Antiquity 25.3: 313-323. (Available on JSTOR:

Savage, Stephen H. & Dinsmore, Elizabeth S. 1998. “Exercises in Archaeological Methods and Techniques” (Partial Curriculum for Anthro 156-103: Digging Up the Past – Approaches to Archaeology. In-class Exercises). Arizona State University. Available as PDF download at (Last accessed 08 July 2015).

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Susann S. Lusnia, FAAR ’96, is Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Tulane University, where she teaches courses in Roman art and archaeology, as well as Executive Director of the Center of Engaged Learning & Teaching (CELT). She has published articles and reviews in several journals, and her book, Creating Severan Rome: The Architecture and Self-Image of L. Septimius Severus, was published in 2014 in the Collection Latomus series. In addition to the American Academy Rome Prize, she has held both a Fulbright grant and an American Philosophical Society Franklin Research grant. She received her B.A. in Latin from Mary Washington College in 1985, and her M.A. (1990) and Ph.D. (1998) in Classics, with a concentration in classical archaeology, from University of Cincinnati. Susann was born in Leesburg, Virginia and now resides in New Orleans, Louisiana.

What to expect at Annual Meeting

Annual Meeting is nearly upon us. Here are lists of things to expect at it, things to bring, and things to do after the meeting.

Things to Expect

  • Twitter The hashtag is #CANE2015.
  • Vendors and textbook representatives Many of the major textbook publishers have representatives at the meeting in the vendor room. This can be a great chance to buy books you’re interested in, and some reps will give out complimentary copies. There are other vendors of Classical things- you can buy stickers and posters, games like CARD-tamen, and all sorts of things for your classroom.
  • Silent auction The silent auction is a fundraiser that auctions off jewelry, prints, books, and all sorts of wonderful Classical miscellanea.
  • CANEPress CANEPress will have some of the most popular books there for people to look at and to buy at discounted prices. If you don’t want to lug these books home, they’re available on Amazon.
  • Emporium The CANE Emporium is selling prints, calendars, and other things for the classroom.
  • Used Book Sale A wonderful tide of books washes among Classicists. You can find copies of recent scholarly books, nineteenth century textbooks, supplemental readers, and more.
  • Teachers’ Material Exchange Bring something to share, take a treasure trove home!  We encourage participants to give an electronic copy of their materials to this year’s host, TJ Howell, who will put them up on a shared Google Drive folder.

Things to bring

  • travel mug Coffee and tea are supplied, and everyone has small, identical hot cups. If you have a travel mug, you avoid the awkward moment of putting down your cup while talking to someone and then having to find it in a sea of identical cups.
  • business cards or index cards and a pen At Annual Meeting, you’ll have a lot of chances to meet new people and network with them. If you have business cards with your contact information, this is a great place to use them. If you don’t have business cards, bring index cards so you can write down information to give people.
  • notebook/tablet/computer You’ll want to be able to write down information from other people and keep notes on interesting presentations.
  • resume If you’re on the job market or are not averse to finding new jobs, bring your resume. There are people who are planning to retire or move and they often will be on the lookout for replacements.
  • checks/money Not all vendors accept credit cards, so you may want to bring a checkbook or cash.

After the meeting

  • Write up PD Take a moment and write up what you learned. Your school may want to have a blurb on your conference attendance for the website or a newsletter (if so, have someone take a picture of you there), but at least write notes to yourself about what you saw and whose presentations you liked so you can follow up on the material.
  • Get more involved in CANE. CANE is always looking for people to be more involved. CANEPress, the Emporium, and CANEns would all love to have new people involved. Committees on the Executive Board are often looking for new people.

Medieval Latin in the classroom (with giveaway!) 1

Today’s guest post is an updated classic by Ruth Breindel, Latin teacher at Moses Brown School. We also have a giveaway; we will randomly choose one comment posted on this post before 10 March to receive a copy of CANEPress’s new download, a three pack of themed readings on Friendship, Riddles, and Serpents from the Gesta Romanorum.

The clever, the bizarre and the fanciful

What stories are these? They are Medieval tales, and the students really enjoy reading them. Medieval Latin is having a resurgence, and there are many reasons why:

1. The grammar is quite straightforward, and the sentences aren’t usually too long.

2. The stories are fascinating, both in themselves – folk tales, the early history of England – and as a window onto the medieval world-view. This is especially important, since many schools no longer teach medieval history.

3. There are parallels to modern and ancient stories – retellings of old myths, but with the medieval perspective; history which eulogizes people, giving you scope to discuss what is fact and what isn’t, just like today.

You can pick stories of varying lengths, and students don’t seem to have difficulty in going from one author to another, unlike classical authors, where Vergil is so different from Caesar (!).

It’s easy to do a unit on a specific event: e.g., in Jenney Latin 3, there is the Murder of Thomas Becket. After we read this, and have a quiz on it, we then read T S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, which is very difficult, but quite rewarding for the students to read and then feel that they understand. Then, while we watch (3/4) of the movie Becket, the students are writing a paper that compares the characters, personalities and motifs of the 3 versions. If you would like my notes on this, just email me. In addition, we discuss the concept of church vs. state, theocracy vs. aristocracy/monarchy, and look at modern examples. You could also do a debate where the students have to take either Henry’s or Becket’s side. This could also be a research paper. The possibilities are endless, and can be chosen based on who you have for students.

Another aspect that is great is to read the Carmina Burana. Here there are many other interesting points. First, there is a great deal of colloquial language – French and German are mixed in with the Latin. This leads to interesting discussions about moving from straight Latin into the Romance or Germanic languages. Next, you can choose poems based on themes (as they are listed: love, the tavern, etc.). Third, listen to the music in class; they will all recognize the first song, O Fortuna, which comes as a shock to them! Tell them about Carl Orff, and how he developed the musical instruments they might have used in elementary school. Another good song to play is The Big Rock Candy Mountain (easily available on the web), when reading the song about Cockaigne, the land of plenty. To round this out, I have the students write a poem, in English, in the style of the Carmina. You’d be amazed how many write about a piece of food being sentient and about to be eaten (the Roasted Swan)!

These are just some examples of easily available medieval literature. Dive in and have fun!

CANEPress makes a variety of Medieval literature available:

We have several more authors: Peter Alphonus’ Disciplina (already published), which has 33 really interesting stories, some of which also appear in the Gesta Romanorum, a collection of 223 stories, which we are making available in themed sections for download (Friendship, Riddles, and Serpents are currently available) not to mention the Navigatio Sancti Brendani, also published with beautiful illustrations.

All of these stories are geared for students who have finished the grammar and are ready for “real” Latin. To give you an idea of some of the topics:

Clever: in Peter Alphonsus, we meet clever women who help the hapless men figure out how to get their money back, or outwit evil strangers; in the Gesta, there are riddles to solve (especially in the story of the three caskets, known to students from Macbeth) and again, evil people to confound.

Bizarre: snakes and other animals who help, hurt and generally communicate with people in both Disciplina and Gesta; the medieval sensibility, which strikes us as quite bizarre (laws about how to eat and what happens if you transgress in the Gesta) but will bring about fascinating discussions of a different society.

Fanciful: the Navigatio Sancti Brendani is a great book, since the voyagers land on a giant turtle, go looking for the blessed land, meet the devil and have many other strange adventures that truly belong in science fiction or in fantasy. The Gesta has a version of Pliny’s discussion of strange people in far-away places, not to mention people finding cities underground with magic gems.

Students really enjoy these stories, because they are easy to read, different and a good segue to other texts.