Featured eHRAF teaching exercise: Comparison of prehistoric burial practices

Scythian burial photo

Scythian Burial Site Near Asku-Ayuly, Kazakhstan by Ken and Nyetta

This week’s featured eHRAF teaching exercise was produced in-house here at HRAF by Christiane Cunnar. Designed for classroom use or as a homework assignment, Exercise 2.3 Burial Practices: A world-wide comparison of burial practices in prehistoric times, is best suited for introductory archaeology courses of any enrollment size. It utilizes both eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology for the exercises and activities, making this workbook an ideal example of the versatility that eHRAF has to offer.

It is a Level I & II resource, which means that the student engages in answering questions based on passages of text from eHRAF as well as some directed searching within the database, including using Advanced Search.


Step-by-step guides allow the student to learn how to navigate eHRAF and find answers within selected texts. URLs within the teaching exercise direct the student to specific locations in the eHRAF databases (log in or on-campus access required) where they can read pre-selected excerpts from ethnographic sources in order to answer the questions. This part of the exercise focuses on the following classroom and study skills: following directions, database search methods and reading comprehension.

Each set of questions based on a selected text also concentrates on an archaeological tradition, such as the Scythian tradition in West-Central Asia, Late Southern California tradition in North America, Classic Maya tradition in Mesoamerica, or the Ganges Neolithic Tradition in India, among others. After answering the relevant questions pertaining to each tradition, students are then encouraged to draw connections between several cultures across similar themes (such as animal remains or status and prestige in mortuary practices) by re-creating a guided Advanced Search in eHRAF Archaeology.

Within the scope of a single workbook on burial practices, this exercise therefore begins with basic skills and then builds up to more advanced tasks within the eHRAF interface so that the student is directed to make use of as many aspects of the databases as possible while learning about several archaeological traditions from around the world. By the end of the exercise, students will have completed several cross-cultural searches.

Furthermore, 2.3 Burial Practices is also a good example of an exercise that can be easily modified depending on classroom needs. The extensive selection of search and browse activities can be used as a template: choose some or all of the examples and/or assign a fewer or greater number of cultures for comparison. The various tasks can also fit in well with an established curriculum on archaeological traditions and/or burial practices as well as cross-cultural research methods.

Learn more

To view a full list of teaching exercises, go to Teaching eHRAF. You can also browse for relevant exercise using the Subject Index.

Access to the teaching exercises is freely available to everyone. Searching the eHRAF databases is by subscription only. Check to see if your institution is already a member with database access (or contact your librarian), or email hraf@yale.edu to find out more about a free trial.

Lastly, if you find these teaching exercises useful, please let us know. We also encourage educators to collaborate with us and contribute any eHRAF-themed teaching materials that they have to Teaching eHRAF. If you would like to contribute, email us at hraf@yale.edu.

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Featured Photo: Image from page 264 of “An introduction to the study of prehistoric art” (1915), by Internet Archive Book Images