Creating Archeology Lesson Plans Using 3D Technology


3D technology creates digital and printed models of archeological artifacts. Educators and archeologists can use the models in place of archeological artifacts when teaching in classroom or informal learning contexts. Lesson plans using the models provide structure for learning experiences. This guidance is for archeologists who are working with educators to create lesson plans that use archeological artifacts and 3D technology.

What You’ll Find

  • Basics of 3D printing
  • How to create a lesson plan
  • Reflection

Basics of 3D Printing

The technology to “print” artifact replicas includes cameras, 3D scanners, modeling software, and 3D printers. Setups range from mobile phones, tablets, apps and small-scale printers to high-definition scanners and industrial printers. Libraries, print shops, universities, and companies offer 3D printing services at a range of price points.

There are four basic steps to 3D printing:

  1. Scanning: An artifact, feature, or an entire site is scanned using photogrammetry, a short-range laser scanner, and projected light scanners. The data is either a collection of photographs or a point cloud.
  2. Modeling: The data is input into computer software that renders it into a digital 3D model file, also termed a “computer-aided design” (CAD) or “blueprint.”
  3. Uploading Online: The model file is uploaded to an open source 3D model website, such as SketchPad. It is tagged, such as by park name, so that it can be grouped with other 3D models. Metadata should describe the artifact information (i.e., catalog reference, the technology used to scan, and who scanned it).
  4. Printing: A special 3D printer uses filament to 3D print a replica. The most common material is plastic (including ABS) because it is cost effective and durable. Other filament materials include nylon, resin, and ceramic.

Once an item is scanned and hosted online, lesson plans can draw from the model files online or the printed replicas.

Benefits of Using 3D Models

Archeological artifacts and museum objects are typically not used in educational programs because they are fragile and irreplaceable. 3D models and replicas are sturdy, reproducible, and replaceable. While they will never be mistaken for the real thing, they provide opportunities for tangible and interactive learning experiences.

3D models and replicas support distance learning. Once files are uploaded to an open source 3D model website, and the lesson plan added to the NPS Educator’s Portal, educators anywhere in the world with an internet connection can use them. Lesson plans with 3D models thus extend the benefits of NPS archeology to a broader audience.

Once an artifact is modeled and/or printed, it can be used again and again. Park staff may use the replicas for other lesson plans, public events, or other projects.

Using 3D models enhances NPS archeologists’ and educators’ ability to fulfill the NPS mission by helping to preserve and protect archeological resources while offering educational opportunities. These projects are often conducted with our partners.

Create a Lesson Plan

Before creating a lesson plan using 3D models, keep in mind:

  • To see or print digital models, educators must have access to a computer, an internet connection and/or special software and 3D printers. They may incur a cost for printing.
  • The artifacts you want to use might not model well. For example: glass, shiny metal, complex shapes and hollow or thin-bodied forms are difficult to model and print.
  • When printed, 3D printed models will not look like the authentic artifacts. Some filaments can be matched with the type or appearance of the archeological artifacts, such as choosing white plastic to print bone. Replicas can be painted to resemble the original artifact, which might require specialized artistic skills.

To create a lesson plan:

  1. Identify your park’s archeological (and, possibly, museum) resources.
    • What is the topic for the lesson plan?
    • Which archeological artifacts provide accurate and authentic evidence to support the topic?
    • Are there objects in the museum collection that might complement the archeological artifacts in a lesson plan?
    • Are the artifacts and objects good candidates for 3D scanning and/or printing?
  2. Consider the logistics of the lesson plan.
    • Who will coordinate, write, edit, and manage the lesson plan?
    • How will the project be funded?
    • What organization, university, or company will scan and print the artifacts or museum objects? Does the park or region have the technology?
    • Where will the digital model files be hosted online?
    • Who is your intended audience? Consider their grade in school and age.
    • Who will carry out the lesson plan? Possible lesson plan leaders include teachers, park educators, and parents.
    • Where will the lesson plan be used? At the park? Off-site in schools? Both?
    • How will the lesson plan tie to regional or Common Core standards? How many benchmarks can you incorporate?
    • What is the project deadline? Do any of the objects need to be conserved, be returned to a donor, go on display, etc.?
  3. Create the lesson plan and upload it to the park website and the NPS Educators Portal.
    • Guide: Creating Lesson Plans for the NPS Educators Portal
    • Developing meaningful activities that support the topic can be one of the most difficult aspects of creating a lesson plan. Examples of activities that use 3D models include:
      • Science: Students read a short article about three different types of projectile points. They measure a printed projectile point to match it to the typology. (Common Core standard 6-8.RST.9: Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained form reading a text on the same topic.)
      • Mathematics: Students get a printed ceramic bowl. They measure its dimensions and calculate area, circumference, and volume. Given their results, they hypothesize the uses for the bowl. (Common Core standard 4.MD.2: Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money.)
      • Literacy: Students view three models of trade beads. They pretend to be a trader in the early 1800’s and write a diary entry about their experiences. (Common Core standard 3.L.2: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.)
      • Social Studies: Students read a Civil War soldier’s diary entry. They receive a model of a Civil War soldier’s uniform button. They discuss the challenges soldiers faced during war and how holding the button makes the diary entry more powerful. (Common Core standard 4.RI.7: Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.)
    • Include directions on how to access the models online or to print the files.


Once a lesson plan is written and the artifacts and objects are 3D scanned, review the product by asking the following questions:

  • Does the lesson have a clear teaching objective?
  • Do the artifacts and museum objects enforce the objective and essential questions?
  • Does the lesson clearly define and connect 3D printing technology, archeology, and teaching objectives?
  • Do the activities and discussion questions enforce this connection?
  • Does the lesson plan contain clear, step-by-step instructions for educators on how to access, download, and print the digital model file?
  • Are the digital model files hosted on a publicly accessible site?
  • Do the digital model files contain metadata describing the artifacts, their contexts, and catalog numbers?
  • Is the digital model file format identified? If a physical model is used and the file is not printer-friendly, are there instructions on how to convert the file type?

Remember! As technology advances and park interpretations change, your park staff has the responsibility to update and manage existing lesson plans on the Education Portal.

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