Treasures in the Permafrost

Treasures in the Permafrost

The Treasures in the Permafrost infographic helps students understand the important role permafrost plays in preserving artifacts—such as those of the Thule people of Greenland—in the soil.


5 - 8


Anthropology, Archaeology, Conservation, Earth Science, Geology, Experiential Learning, Geography, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations

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Idea for Use in the Classroom

Introduce the infographic to students. Have students read the introduction located at the top left. Ask: Why does the author compare permafrost to a freezer? How does it function in a similar way? Then have students explain why permafrost is important to archaeologists, and why climate change poses a threat to both permafrost and the preservation of history. Next, have students look at the illustration on the right-hand side of the page and discuss the difference between the “active layer” and permafrost. Ask: How does the active layer change each year? Have students describe the artifacts archaeologists have found. Ask: What do these artifacts help us to understand about the Thule people?

To explore the impact of permafrost, have students create small items from cloth, clay, and craft sticks to represent “artifacts” that might be found in the ground. Then have students place half of these artifacts in small plastic containers of sand that are kept damp and the other half in small plastic containers of ice. Store the ice containers in a freezer and the sand containers in a safe area in the classroom. Continue to moisten the sand container several times a day for five school days. Keep the ice containers in the freezer for the same amount of time. At the end of the five days, have students work in groups to “excavate” their “artifacts” and compare and contrast those from the moist sand and those from the ice. Ask: How did the ice “preserve” the artifacts differently than the moist sand?

When they have finished, have students meet in small groups to consider how climate change might impact the field of archaeology, as well as the artifacts left behind by past cultures. What steps might archaeologists take to help protect artifacts that might be preserved in permafrost?

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Roza Kavak
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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