Perplexing Poverty Point Figurines

Clarence H. Webb (1982)
courtesy of LSU Dept. of Geography and Anthropology

Subject Areas:Art, Language Arts, Social Studies

Objectives:
The student will:

Time:
Two one-hour class sessions

Materials:
Division of Archaeology Poverty Point suitcase (1-225-342-8170)
Overhead transparency of Perplexing Poverty Point Figurines
Perplexing Poverty Point Figurines handout

Self-hardening pottery clay

Must Know Info:

Archaeologists at Poverty Point have found molded clay figurines or fragments in the shapes of women. In a sample of 133 pieces, there were 10 heads and 107 torsos, but only 16 whole figurines. Because so many heads are missing, archaeologists hypothesize that the heads may have been broken off intentionally, possibly for some religious or sacred reason. Most of the figurines are from one to 2.5 inches tall and from one to two inches wide.

The figurines are mostly of seated or kneeling women, some of whom appear to be pregnant. Legs and feet were not included on the figurines although some figurines have leg shapes which end before the knees. Arms are usually not shown, but are sometimes indicated by lines or markings. The figurines do not have hands or ears. The heads have eyes and mouths which were possibly carved with a fingernail or a stick. Some of the heads even have lines to show hair on the head.

Procedures:

1. The purpose of the clay figurines is one of the many questions which archaeologists are attempting to answer. Read the first paragraph of the handout aloud to provide students with background information about the figurines.

2. Show Perplexing Poverty Point Figurines overhead transparency or the figurine from the Division of Archaeology suitcase.

3. Challenge students to brainstorm reasons why the figurines do not have their heads. Record student responses on the board or overhead. After a few minutes, encourage students to continue brainstorming individually. Remind students that the most original ideas are usually not the first ones generated during brainstorming.

4. After students have generated a list of ideas, encourage them to choose their favorite one to write a story. Now that they have created why the clay figurine was decapitated, a cause and effect relationship can be developed.

5. Instruct students to create a main character and supporting characters. Details about the character's appearance, personality, and feelings will make the character seem more real.

6. This is an excellent time for a mini-lesson on character traits. Present students with examples of character traits like loyalty, honesty, mischievousness, etc. by either showing them a list of character traits or generating them in class. Instruct students to pick character traits which go along best with their idea of how the figurine became headless.

7. Students will create a character map by picking two or more character traits for the main character and writing these in the spaces on a character map. Under each trait, students need to jot down three things the character will do or say in the story which show this trait. For example, if a character is loyal, what things would she do or say that give evidence of this trait? A character map is an excellent way for students to bring life to their characters. See the example below.

8. Students will complete the setting description and plot sequence on the handout before beginning to write a rough draft. Instruct students to be sure to a have a beginning, a middle, and an end to their story. The story can be set up as a problem/solution plot, or a conflict between two characters, etc. Elicit examples of these kinds of plots from students as they begin to brainstorm ideas.



Character Trait
COURAGEOUS
Character's Name
GOOSEFOOT
GIRL
Character Trait
INTELLIGENT
An action or dialogue which
demonstrates this trait
GOOSEFOOT GIRL SAVES
HER SISTER FROM
DROWNING IN BAYOU
MACON WHILE THEY ARE
FISHING
An action or dialogue which
demonstrates this trait.
GOOSEFOOT GIRL
INVENTS A NEW WAY OF
WEAVING AND EXPLAINS
IT TO THE OLDER
WOMEN.

9. Students will write a rough draft on scratch paper and then follow the Steps in Writing a Story to check for understanding, spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

10. Students should use self-hardening pottery clay to make figurines to display next to the stories. Be sure they add details like eyes, mouth, hair, etc.