The latest offering in the video news-magazine series Strata: Portraits of Humanity, produced by AntiquityNOW’s partner, Archaeological Legacy Institute, examines an elaborate structure of more than 90 small coral islands often called the “Venice of the Pacific.” Much of the construction and purpose of these islands is shrouded in mystery, but their unique beauty continues to inspire a reverence today for the impressive talents of ancient lives.
On the island of Pohnpei lies the huge megalithic complex of Nan Madol, the most impressive construction in all the Pacific islands. Here an elite class separated themselves from the rest and carried out important rituals. “The Ruins of Nan Madol” documents the knowledge of the late Pohnpeian historian, Masao Hadley, on the worship that took place at this ancient Micronesian bastion. Hadley describes the history, culture and tradition of the peoples of Nan Madol, focusing on their religious practices and the importance of these practices to the people.
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.
- To introduce students to the concept of spirituality and its creation in a culture
- To think about how religion and worship, even from the distant past, influence subsequent generations
- To realize how humans across cultures shape their understanding of earthly and otherworldly existences in order to give order and purpose to their lives
- To imagine past lives and appreciate how 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 how they created religion to support their cultural values
- To view an archaeological site such as Nan Madol and appreciate the ingenuity, technology and artistry of past civilizations
Lesson Plan 1
Project Idea #1
- Numerous myths surround the construction and purpose of Nan Madol. Today, many area inhabitants believe that spirits roam the ruins. Click here to read about some of the stories that have been circulated about Nan Madol.
- Group Discussion: Can you speculate on how these stories of Nan Madol came into being?
- From the points of view of those who live near Nan Madol, why would they attribute supernatural powers to the site?
- Why would the technical difficulties involved in building the site give rise to stories of strange phenomena?
- What does this tell us about how people construct a belief system?
Project Idea #2
- Group Discussion: Using the resources below as well as such sites as http://basementgeographer.com/the-ruins-of-nan-madol/, discuss the religious and social beliefs and practices that determined the design of Nan Madol.
- Group Activity: Click here to discover the many elements of creation stories from around the world.
- As a group, write a creation story (up to 500 words).
- As a group, use pictographs instead of writing to tell what happened, just as ancient people would do. Are there elements of the story that can be symbols for your religion (e.g, an apple in the Adam and Eve creation story, or a turtle for Native American myth)?
Project Idea #3
- Group Activity: Design a structure (e.g., city, temple and surrounding area) based on a fictional pantheon of gods (this includes goddesses) drawn from your collective imaginations. These gods can include those in your creation story, or be separate from that.
- Draw your gods on a pieces of paper, poster board or on the computer.
- Under each picture:
- Describe which areas of life each god is responsible for and detail each god’s individual powers.
- Define how each is to be worshipped (e.g., sacrifices, prayers, special offerings).
- Group Activity: Design a structure that reflects the power and majesty of your gods. Click here to see images of amazing temples from around the world, and here for some architecturally awe-inspiring churches.
- Create a poster or using a software program show the structure you designed.
- Along with your illustrations of gods and your house of worship, write a description (300-500 words) of how worship of the gods is a part of your society, including the following:
- How the gods are important to your cultural identity.
- What the people in your culture derive from the gods (e.g., protection, health, agricultural bounty, victory in combat).
- How the leaders interact with the gods.
- The role of the gods in determining such things as social class and state affairs (e.g., warfare).
- Whether the gods are benevolent or punitive (i.e., what is their power over the people).
- Whether your beliefs include the existence of an afterlife, and the gods’ role in that.
- How the people will use the structure you created for worship.
- Any other details that define your imagined religion.
Project Idea #4
- Group Discussion: Now that your imaginations have taken you this far, consider the following:
- What did you learn from crafting your own religion?
- What elements do religions have in common?
- Why have people throughout time, across cultures, created beings to worship?
- How does religion unite people? Divide people?
- What is spirituality?
- Do you need to be religious in order to believe in a higher power?
- Nan Madol (Wikipedia)
- Nan Madol: The City Built on Coral Reefs (Smithsonian.com)
- Nan Madol, Madolenihmw, Pohnpei (William Ayres, University of Oregon)
- Nan Madol: Spaces on the Reef of Heaven, by Masao Hadley and Paul Ehrlich (Amazon)
- Pohnpei (Wikipedia)