Lesson Plan 1: Nine Men’s Morris Historical/Cultural Perspective


Evaluation: See attached rubric Lesson Sixty



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Evaluation: See attached rubric

Lesson Sixty- Picking Up the Pieces, Unit Culminating Activity (Visual Arts, Archaeology, Anthropology, History)

Objective: Students will examine the roles of Archeology and Anthropology in the discovery and preservation of indigenous cultural traditions by piecing together the clues to a long lost sporting game and speculating on the design and method of play.

Materials: Drawing and writing paper, pencils, colored pencils or crayons, ‘Journal’ page from an archeologists notebook

Procedures: Determine in what environment you want the ‘sport’ to be found. This will determine what types of materials were used in the making of the materials to play the game.


  1. Make the following ‘Journal’ page ahead of time and copy a sheet for every student.

6/30/03 6:32 A.M. This is all I know so far. The report from the lab confirms that all the articles found date to circa 700 A.D. with the exception of Father Aquinos’ diary fragment which dates to the latter half of the sixteenth century. If my suspicions are correct, the finds all point to some sort of game or sport played by the natives of this region of the Amazon. These fragments, however, are unlike any found in neighboring digs and include unusual materials not found in the immediate area. To date, this is what the team has found:
At site 412, fragments of two ceramic pots were unearthed, each approximately 30 inches in diameter, containing what can only be described as ‘balls’. These balls all are different sizes. Some are small like tennis balls but others are the size of basketballs. All are slightly more oval in shape then perfectly round and are made from coconut fiber and palm leaves woven around a center of Harpie Eagle feathers. Strangely enough, Harpie Eagles are not native to this area. What is the significance of the size and shape of the ‘balls’? How were they used? Why are they stuffed with Harpie feathers and not some other bird more common to the immediate area? Where and how did the feathers get here?
On day 28, small fragments of jaguar fur were discovered stuffed inside the mouths of the serpent carvings lining the north wall of the large temple alter at the main site. Each fragment is in the shape of a square, which measures approximately six inches and is stitched around the edges with threads of human hair. Most have tassels measuring eight inches in length protruding from each corner. Are these fragments part of the game? They are two small to be worn around the waist, but too large for the wrist or ankle. What was their purpose?

A diary page written in the hand of Father Louis Santos Aquino, a well known Catholic Missionary famous for his accounts of daily native life between 1582- 1595.

Do to extensive water damage only a partial reference exists that involves the artifacts found at site 412. He describes a ‘ball-like’ object similar in size and shape to the ones we found. The only other reference we can make out is one to tilted triangular stones with round holes in them approximately eight feet off the ground attached to stones spaced some five feet apart forming a ring. As of this entry, no such structure has been found. Was the ‘ball’ really a ball at all or something else used in daily life? What is the significance of the ring and triangular stones? Are they part of a sport or was it just coincidence they were mentioned together on the same diary page?
Yesterday, Felix discovered what I suspect is the key to this mystery. High above the tomb located in the Sky temple, Felix found four small clay figurines wrapped in banana leaves and orchid petals hidden behind false panels each painted with triangles; one facing north, another east, a third south and the last west. Two of these figures are woman, two are men. The two female figures were found in the wall depicting the god of the Sun, the two males in the wall depicting the god of the Moon. Each is made of clay and measures approximately seven inches in height. All of the figures have one arm tied behind their backs, one is blindfolded, another is holding what appears to be a small wooden spoon in his mouth, and yet another is the only seated figure and his legs are bound at the knees. Two things suggest a connection to this puzzle. First, if it were not for the expressions of joy on their faces, the description of the figures would suggest acts of torture rather then play and second the forehead of each figure has the face of a Howler monkey painted on it with a replica of a small ball clutched in its mouth; the same balls found at site 412 and described in Father Aquinos’ diary. Do these figures depict players in a game? Do the descriptions and actions of each give us an idea as to how this game was played? Is there a connection between where these figurines were found and why the game was played? If these figures do represent players of a game, were their only four players or is it possible there were more? If there were more, what actions may have they been performing? What if any significance is the reference to the Howler Monkeys? What is the significance of the triangles and the directions they face?

Questions! Questions! QUESTIONS!!!

I know the clues are all here that will answer the riddle of how this game was played, where it was played, what the rules were that governed play and why this game was played in the first place! I’m going to E-mail some colleagues to help me out on this one. I need all the suggestions I can get! End Entry -9:05 A.M.


  1. In teams of two, students will aide this researcher in his/her quest to solve this puzzle by developing theories of their own that answer the four questions answered in the last paragraph. Drawings concerning clothing, maps of playing area etc. and written explanations concerning rules/penalties, procedures for play etc. must accompany their ideas.

Additions, such as more players, additional equipment etc. are welcome, but must link fluidly with the material already presented, no totally new information may be added at this time such as aliens teaching the natives how to play etc. Game must be rooted in science fact not science fiction. Since the game dates to 700 A.D., no references to modern materials such as iron, steel, plastic, etc. is allowed. Students may choose to ignore portions of the information that has already been presented if they feel it is not relevant to their solution, but no new ‘discoveries’ may be introduced that would make their task easier.



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