Scaffolding surrounds the Edicule during restoration work, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City.

Oded Balilty

National Geographic’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre experience immerses students in the quest to investigate, document, and preserve the observed Tomb of Christ. Built on limestone, water eroded the foundation and soot from pilgrims’ candles marred the interior of the chapel. National Geographic was given to opportunity to document the process of restoring and stabilizing the structure. This church is not the only place in peril. Looting, political unrest, erosion, or natural disasters threaten many historical sites across the world.

Scientists are collaborating to study and document existing areas and discover new sites before they are lost to time or disaster. Ever evolving, new technologies allow them to take aerial images of dense forests and see sites that would be otherwise obscured or to explore underwater remains of past civilizations. Documenting and communicating the stories of historical sites and artifacts enhances our collective knowledge of our human journey. Here are some ideas -- connected to select National Geography Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the Geography Standards in the C3 Framework -- to support and extend students’ learning as they experience the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  

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A restoration worker carefully brushes sediment away in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's old city.

Impacts of Environmental Factors

Many archaeological sites around the world, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are threatened by erosion from the air, water, or natural disaster. Use MapMaker Interactive to explore Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Create a multi-layered map by pinning the location of Jerusalem and selecting different layers such as the Climate Zone and Precipitation and Rainfall layers. Ask students how environmental factors such as rainfall, natural disasters, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions might negatively impact historic landmarks such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  

In the Mediterranean Sea off the Coast of Turkey, a diver rises from a Byzantine wreck with a basket full of artifacts.

Underwater Archaeology

Archaeologists may work on land, underground, or undersea. Introduce students to underwater archaeology by having them read about it within the Disciplines of Archaeology section of the encyclopedia entry Archaeology. Have students learn about National Geographic Emerging Explorer Guillermo de Anda’s search for remnants of Mayan civilization within cenotes and caves by reading Underwater Archaeologist: Dr. Guillermo de Anda. Ask students to compare the skills and knowledge that would be useful to an underwater archaeologist and one that investigates sites on land. Use students’ contributions to discuss the multitude of skills and variety of knowledge required in underwater archaeology and archaeology in general.   

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luxor Temple in Luxor City, Egypt.

Climate Change and Archaeology

The impacts of climate change include increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification. Have students predict how climate change may affect underwater and terrestrial archaeological sites and artifacts. Then evaluate and revise the predictions using information from UNESCO and the National Park Service. Share a real-world example of climate change impacts by discussing the Nunalleq archaeological site in coastal Alaska. Ask students to propose solutions that can help reduce the effects of climate change on underwater and terrestrial archaeological sites and artifacts.

Workers remove the top of the suspected tomb of Jesus Christ in the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Tombs of Ancient Civilizations

Burial practices have taken many forms throughout history. In some ancient civilizations and current societies, tombs house the deceased. Have students explore, research and compare tombs used by the ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Mayan cultures. Use Google Earth to find the geographic location of the tombs of King Tut, Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, and Lady K’Abel.

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Space Archaeology

Brainstorm the various difficulties archaeologists may face as they work to uncover and investigate historical sites and artifacts across the globe. Highlight responses concerning the time it takes to cover vast areas of land and impediments to access, such as forests or difficult terrain. Then have students propose technological solutions to these issues before viewing Space Archaeology. To learn about discoveries that have been made using satellites, have students research National Geographic Explorer Fellow Sarah Parcak. Students can map the locations of Parcak’s discoveries, like a Viking settlement in North America or Egyptian pyramids, onto Google Earth to visualize the distance between sites, thereby highlighting the geographical versatility of space archaeology. Satellite image ©2017 DigitalGlobe.

A LIDAR survey being performed with a drone.

Technology of Archaeology

Advancements in technology can help further scientific research. Read about National Geographic Explorer Corey Jasklowski to learn about the technologies he has developed to aid archaeologists and other scientists. Other tools useful to archaeological exploration include LIDAR and ground-penetrating radar. Research and compare the similarities and differences between LIDAR and ground-penetrating radar and determine under what circumstances each would be used. Have students research the following archaeological sites and artifacts to determine if they were likely discovered or investigated using LIDAR or ground-penetrating radar: Hidden chambers located behind the walls of King Tut’s tomb, a lost city discovered in the Honduran rain forest, the tomb of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and medieval cities laying beneath the tropical forest floor in Cambodia. Then, have students research other tools used in conservation and suggest which one they think will have the biggest impact in the next five years.

Renovations of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's old city. This is thought to be the burial site of Jesus.

Collaborations in Archaeology

Many archaeological projects are the work of collaborations. Have students read about the recent exploration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and make a list identifying the stakeholders involved in the exploration of the Church and identify whose permission was required for this project. Discuss how consent was not solicited from all Christian groups laying claim to the Church, yet the permission of the three predominant groups represents productive collaboration.

Three men inspect ongoing renovations of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's old city.

Ethics of Archaeology

Excavation of archaeological sites is a common method used to uncover ancient structures and artifacts. Ask students who should be granted the right to excavate archaeological sites and who should take possession of discovered artifacts. Read How the Parthenon Lost Its Marbles to learn about the collection of marble reliefs and sculptures removed from the Parthenon in Greece currently displayed within the British Museum in England. Assign groups of students to represent the Greek government, which is petitioning for the return of the Parthenon marbles, and the British Museum, which continues to house the artifacts. Have students perform outside research to support their position, then hold a debate to argue opposing sides of the controversy.