Strata, Portraits of Humanity, Episode 16, “Islands of Darkness” and “Louisiana Plantation Site”

StrataImage-webWe have two offerings this month in the Strata series that look into how culture evolves. In “Islands of Darkness” we see that Vanuatu has unusually high cultural diversity compared to other Pacific islands outside of New Guinea. As proof, we witness dancing on Ambrym Island, ruins on Malekula Island and a violent volcanic eruption on Tanna Island.

Beneath almost a century of south Louisiana’s riotous vegetation, the Louisiana State University Rural Life Museum carried out the most extensive archaeological project to date on an antebellum site in the state. As captured in “Louisiana Plantation Site,” the project excavated the undisturbed remains of a sugar cane mill along with slave cabins.

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 video.

Strata February 2016


Lesson Plans


  • To discover how archaeologists are history’s sleuths, uncovering the facts and interpreting the findings that give form to our collective world heritage.
  • To introduce students to the value of preservation and how our understanding of the past can inform our lives today.
  • To think about how cultures and their values evolve, and how various beliefs can be derived from the events, environments, politics, prejudices and fears of the people of an era.


  • To realize how small finds can reveal the sweep of past lives and cultures.
  • To understand how diverse cultures evolved based upon various histories and beliefs.
  • To consider what a personal legacy may be as represented by items that have importance in our lives.

Lesson Plan 1

“Islands of Darkness”

Project Idea #1 

  • Group Discussion: In this documentary we learn about different cultures that evolved over thousands of years. Click here to listen to a news story and read the accompanying narrative on culture.
    • Break into small groups. Have each member of the group individually determine the three most important points of the news segment. Discuss and as a group decide which three points are the most important. Defend your selections with the other groups in the class.
    • Discuss the following: What distinguished each culture in the video? How do you think given the description of each they evolved so differently? What causes cultures to develop unique characteristics? Why do some cultures seem to have similar traits?

Project Idea #2

  • Activity: Flash fiction is a very short story. Using the words below that were in the video, write a story of 150 words or less for each word. Or to be really creative, write a 200 word short story using all the words.
    • Volcano
    • Talisman
    • Cannibal
    • Island
    • Ruins


Lesson Plan 2

“Louisiana Plantation Site”

Project Idea #1

  • The principle archaeologist at Chatsworth was Dennis Jones, who said, “The smallest things can tell a pretty big story once you know how to look at them.” Write a short essay (300 words) elaborating on what he meant. Reference the video.
  • Think about how you can represent your life for future generations. List ten items you would include in a memory box that would tell people who you were. Do not write descriptions. Just think about how you are reflected in the objects you choose to have in your life.

Project Idea #2 

  • Group Discussion: Read about Louisiana during the antebellum period. Break into groups and have each group relate a portion of the article to the other members of the class. Each group should identify and explain the importance of the key points of their section, giving background if needed from the links. You may have a single person present your condensed points, or divide the presentation (e.g., introduction, background, importance of key points). As a class, discuss the following:
    • How did slavery benefit Louisiana?
    • What were the demographics of slavery (i.e., the proportions of slave holders v. slaves; free people of color)? How do you think that affected the different socioeconomic groups in Louisiana?
    • How do you think people justified slavery?
    • What facts surprised you in this article? Why?
    • What are the remnants of slavery today in the United States? (Read an intriguing article here.)
    • Select three other questions or observations your class should discuss.

Project Idea #3

  • Read about plantation life. Select three characters and write journal entries (250-500 words) that offer insight into their lives during this time:
    • A plantation owner
    • A plantation wife
    • A poor white farmer
    • A slave who learned to write
    • A free man or woman of color

Web links:

History of Louisiana (Wikipedia)

Louisiana Archaeological Society

LSU Rural Life Museum Archaeology Lab (Facebook)

Study of ancient skulls from Vanuatu cemetery sheds light on Polynesian migration, scientists say (

Vanuatu (National Geographic)

Vanuatu (Wikipedia)


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