Strata: Portraits of Humanity, Episode 11, “James Madison Slave Quarters,” “Iron Age Mirror” and “HMS Fowey Shipwreck”

StrataImage-webThree new features in the video news-magazine series Strata:  Portraits of Humanity, produced by AntiquityNOW’s partner, Archaeological Legacy Institute, examine how the past continues to inspire us today.

“James Madison Slave Quarters” looks at the reconstruction of the South Yard, the slave quarters at the fourth U.S. president’s mansion, which marks the beginning of a new chapter at Montpelier and the history that unfolds.  “Iron Age Mirror” depicts a beautiful mirror found by a metal detectorist in Oxfordshire, UK. It is a remarkable piece of craftmanship used more than 2,000 years ago.  “HMS Fowey Shipwreck” reveals the story of the British frigate that struck a coral reef and sank in 1748, coming to rest within the boundaries of Biscayne National Park.  The National Park Service conducted underwater excavations on the site.

Strata: Portraits of Humanity is a monthly half-hour video series available online and on select cable channels. Strata is a showcase for unique and diverse stories about the world’s cultural heritage. Stories come from across the globe with segments produced by Archaeological Legacy Institute and dozens of producer and distributor partners around the world.

Click on the image below to view the program on The Archaeology Channel and scroll down to see the curriculum developed by AntiquityNOW to accompany this episode’s videos.

Strata September 2015

Lesson Plans


  • To introduce students to the concept of culture evolving over time
  • To think about how cultures, even from the distant past, influence subsequent generations
  • To realize that even though people have vastly different experiences and lived in different times, there is always something to discover from their histories that enrich contemporary understanding


  • To imagine past lives and appreciate how the circumstances of the times influence values, beliefs and cultural attributes
  • To think critically about why people thought and behaved the way they did in the past, and to appreciate how we have assessed, disputed and incorporated these cultural values in our lives today
  • To gain inspiration from found objects and create something that resonates in today’s world

Lesson Plan 1

James Madison Slave Quarters

Project Idea #1

  • Six generations of slaves lived at Montpelier, President James Madison and Dolly Madison’s home. Using the links below and other research, write two (2) essays (500 words each):
    • As President James Madison speaking about freedom in the United States, including his views on slavery. Would slaves have figured in his ideas of freedom for all Americans? See if you can explain in your essay how President Madison, only one of thousands of slave owners, reconciled these two views.
    • As a slave at Montpelier, knowing that President Madison represented the ideal of freedom that defined the relatively new United States. How would you feel about how freedom was defined and practiced in the U.S.? At Montpelier? (Few slaves learned to read or write, so we’re taking some liberties with this essay.)

Project Idea #2

  • Descendants of the slaves at Montpelier retain an attachment to the land and the lives of their ancestors.
    • Group Discussion: “Hear the cries” was one of the statements heard in the video. What do you think these words mean to descendants? Explain the word “trauma” and how according to the definition it applies to the above phrase.
    • One area of trauma studies looks at the passing on of painful experiences from generation to generation. See if you can find common threads by researching examples of this in:
      • African Americans
      • Holocaust families
      • Native Americans
    • Write brief summaries of what you found for each of the above three (3) categories.
    • Group Discussion: Share and discuss your observations with classmates.

Lesson Plan 2

Iron Age Mirror

Project Idea #1

  • Group Activity: Snow White, Dracula and Through the Looking Glass are three famous works of fiction in which a mirror is used. What is it about mirrors that spark the imagination? Are there other examples in film, literature or in games that use mirrors? List some examples, briefly stating in a sentence or two how the mirror was an important creative device in each.

Project Idea #2

  • Write a short story using a mirror as a central part of the plot.

Lesson Plan 3

HMS Fowey Shipwreck

Project Idea #1

  • Group Activity: As a class, discuss how marine biology is different from archaeology. Divide the class into groups and find videos of different underwater explorations to share with the class.

Project Idea #2

  • Marine archaeologists look for found objects under the sea. Here’s an astonishing reversal of that. Jason Decaires Taylor submerges sculptures underwater. Read his story here and see his sculptures here.
  • Group Activity: Divide the class into groups and research examples of ancient submerged cities. Share with the class. How do these underwater objects compare to Taylor’s? How has he incorporated the ancient past in his art? What modern statement is he making by using his artwork in an ecological way?

Web links:

Archaeological Finds (Oxfordshire County Council Museums)

Curator’s Choice: A beautifully crafted Through the Looking Glass-style 1st Century BC mirror (Culture 24)

HMS Fowey (Wikipedia)

James Madison (History)

The Legare Anchorage shipwreck site—Grave of HMS Fowey, Biscayne National Park, Florida (International Journal of Nautical Archaeology)

Oxfordshire Iron Age Mirror (Sharon Woodward)

South Yard Restoration (Montpelier)

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