First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 26 - Mesopotamian Tablet


Recognize that cuneiform writing originated in ancient Mesopotamia.

Carefully observe the characters cut into the stone tablet.


Slide of Protoliterate Tablet from Mesopotamia

Classroom size world map

Map of Fertile Crescent (optional, from History/Geography Lesson 37)

Note for Teacher

This lesson should be taught in conjunction with History/Geography (World Civilization) Lesson 37. In addition, you may want to review the geography material from December World Religions in order to remind the children of the location of the Fertile Crescent.

Recommended Book

Zeman, Anne and Kate Kelly. Everything You Need to Know About World History Homework. New York: Scholastic, 1995.

The maps and lists of accomplishments of the various peoples who inhabited Mesopotamia in ancient times are clear and concise. This book would be a useful supplement to all of the art lessons this month as well as the History/Geography lessons, since it covers both Mesopotamia and Egypt.


Review the geography of the Fertile Crescent with the children by having a student show its location on the map. Say: The western part of the Fertile Crescent is the Mediterranean section. Can someone find that part on the map? The eastern part was called Mesopotamia, which is a word that means "land between the rivers." Can you find the two rivers on the map and tell us their names? (Tigris and Euphrates) Say: Mesopotamia is one of the places where the earliest civilizations we know about took place. (Review the meaning of the word civilization from History/Geography.) Why do you think this area had such an early civilization? (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) What is the importance of those rivers? (provided water so people could settle down and grow food, provided a way of getting from one place to another via boats)

Show the children the slide of the stone tablet (circular indentation is at the top) and say: This stone was made about 5,000 years ago! What do you think it is for? (Accept any reasonable answer. If the children have already had a lesson about the importance of language to civilizations, they may guess what this is; otherwise, give them hints that will lead them to the conclusion that it is some kind of a written record.) Ask: Does this look like a language we could read? Tell the children that when people first began writing things down, they wrote with a kind of picture language, not with an alphabet of sounds. Say: This tablet tells about passing a piece of land from one person to another and what its size was. It was written down by a scribe, which is the name given to those people who know how to write in any civilization where not very many people know the skill of writing. This would be true in the Old Testament

times recorded in the Bible, and even in the Middle Ages when there were castles and knights. In BCP DRAFT ART 51

First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 26 - Mesopotamian Tablet

all those very different civilizations, the people who could write things down were considered very special people and were called scribes (relate to word scribble and script).

Tell the children that the tablet they are looking at was written by a Sumerian scribe, and that the Sumerians were one of the first groups of people to build a civilization in Mesopotamia. They were also the first people we know about to invent a phonetic system of language (sounds instead of pictures), and the written language of the Sumerians we now call cuneiform. There were between 300 and 500 different characters in the cuneiform writing at the time this tablet was made. Can you imagine having to learn all those different shapes and what they meant? How many letters do we have in our alphabet? (26) Modern people only discovered in the last century how to read cuneiform, because the writing was in the form of lots of wedge-shaped characters instead of the alphabet we know. It was a great puzzle that took a lot of people a long time to study and figure out.

Ask: Does it look as though this cuneiform tablet should be "read" in a particular order, such as left to right (as in English), right to left (as in Hebrew), top to bottom (as in Chinese), or bottom to top? (no particular order) Do you see any figures that are repeated on the tablet? (The figure that looks a bit like a fish with a tail turned at right angles to the rest and a triangle set at one end is repeated twice.) If you were a Sumerian scribe, do you think you would be writing with a pencil? (no) How do you think this Sumerian scribe "wrote" down this information about the land? (with a sharp tool, hammer and tool like a knife or chisel)

Have the children brainstorm with you about the advantages and disadvantages of writing things down on stone tablets and make a list of them on the board or a chart. (Advantages might include its long lasting quality, its being virtually indestructible from weather or fire; key disadvantages would be problems of making and correcting mistakes and storing stone records, difficulty of moving them from one place to another, amount of time required to write something down, and the fact that a big, heavy stone could be used for only one message.)


Suggest a simple sentence such as, "The sun was shining on all the trees and flowers when the two children when outside to play," write it on the board, and read it aloud several times to the class. Then have the children read the sentence together in chorus, and have them make up a kind of picture language (or combination of numbers, letters and pictures) to make the message understood without using actual words. You may have to get them started with the obvious beginning, which would be a representation of sun. It should be fun to compare results.


First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 27 - Egyptian Art


Establish the presence of the Nile River amidst desert.

Look carefully at Egyptian artifact from Middle Kingdom.

Listen to information about Egyptian practices of burying artifacts in royal tombs.

Construct model of Egyptian boat.


Slide of Model of Rowing Boat from Walters collection

Corrugated cardboard

Glue, scissors, paints and brushes

Pictures in magazines or books of the Great Sphinx and the bust of Queen Nefertiti

Note to the Teacher

This art lesson builds on information taught in History/Geography Lessons 39-41.

Recommended Books

Glubok, Shirley. The Art of Ancient Egypt. New York: Atheneum, 1966

Another fine book in this series, all of them written by a woman who has been lecturer to children at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Black and white photographs and good, clearly stated information make this a good book to share with the children.

________, The Art of Egypt Under the Pharaohs. New York: Macmillan, 1980.

See annotation above for general remarks. The time period of this book is more specific and the art works are from different museums than those in Glubok's earlier book. The array of three-dimensional works is especially striking.

Thomson, Ruth. The Egyptians. Chicago, Childrens Press, 1995.

Extremely simplified in historical content, one of the Footsteps in Time series. This is best utilized for its suggested activities and crafts.


Using either the world map or the one used for History/Geography Lesson 37, review with the children the location of the fertile crescent. Remind them that in the last art lesson you talked about the eastern part of the fertile crescent, which was called Babylonia in the ancient world and grew up around two important rivers. Have someone locate and name the two rivers (Tigris and Euphrates). Ask: Why did early civilizations develop around rivers? (provided water for growing food so people could settle down in one place plus transportation for food, supplies, and people)

Have someone locate the western side of the fertile crescent on the map and ask: What do we call this end of the fertile crescent? (the Mediterranean part; have someone locate the Mediterranean Sea on the map) Do you see a big river in this part of the fertile crescent? Where is it? (Nile River; Egypt; have someone locate it on the map) What continent is the Nile River part of? (Africa) What kind of lands surround the Nile River? Are there mountains, plains, fields? BCP DRAFT ART 53

First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 27 - Egyptian Art

(There are some mountains, but it is mainly desert. Point out the western and eastern parts of the great Sahara Desert surrounding the Nile plus the Arabian Desert across the Red Sea.)

Say: You can see just by looking at the map that the Nile River, which is the longest river in the world, is responsible for the ancient Egyptian civilization. Without it, nothing could grow, and people could not have settled down to grow grain to feed people and animals. Everything that they traded or needed to move from one place to another could be taken by boats they built to travel the Nile. Some boats had sails made of cotton material grown and woven by the Egyptians, many just had oars for strong men to row.

Show the students the slide Model of Rowing Boat and ask what they think it is. Tell them it comes from ancient Egypt and is nearly 4,000 years old! Ask some students to describe what they see, then ask some more questions such as: What is the large paddle-shaped stick at the back of the boat? (steering oar and a stick to support it) What is the little horizontal "roof" in front of the supporting stick? (canopy to protect the owner of the boat from the hot Egyptian sun) What are the people wearing? Why are so many of them facing the same direction and seated in the same position? (in rowing position) What about the man standing at the front of the boat? What does he do? (looks forward to see where they're going; the rowers face backward providing only the power to go forward; owner under the canopy also faces forward so he can see)

Ask: If this little model of a river boat was made nearly 4,000 years ago, how do you think it has lasted this long? (Let them speculate.) Do you think the ancient Egyptians made toy models for their children? (Let them speculate again.) The truth is, one of the most important beliefs of their religion was that they would have another life after they died. Pharaohs and other important people were buried in special, weather-proofed tombs with food, clothing, jars of oil and water--just everything they might need in order to live comfortably in the next life. This little model was found in one of those tombs, and it was made to be sure that its owner would have transportation on the Nile in the next life. What do you think about this idea?


(adapted from Ruth Thomson's Egyptians. Chicago, Childrens Press, 1995.)

The children will construct a small boat from corrugated cardboard. Give each child a pattern shaped like a long simple leaf with pointed ends. Have them each cut four copies from the corrugated cardboard, then glue the strips one on top of the other. While the glue is still wet, the two pointed ends can be bent up to resemble the Egyptian river boat model in the slide. The students can paint their boats once they have dried completely.


First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 28 - Egyptian Art


Review information about Egyptian burial practices.

Look closely at a mummy case from the Walters.

Discuss figures used to decorate mummy cases.

Review the use of religious symbols in art.


Slide of Egyptian Mummy from ca. 700 B.C.

Slide of Egyptian Model of Rowing Boat from 1786-1570 B.C.

Illustration of Egyptian male and female royal figures on following page

Egyptian symbols reproduced on sheet, attached

Note to the Teacher

This art lesson builds on and reinforces information about mummies taught in History/Geography Lesson 40. Suggested book titles listed at the beginning of that lesson would be appropriate for showing examples of Egyptian funerary art to the children.


Show the children the slide of the Egyptian Mummy from the Walters Art Gallery and ask what it is. (The children should have no trouble identifying the object if they have completed History/Geography Lesson 40.) Let one of them tell the class what he or she can remember about the process of mummification. Then ask: How long would you guess it would take to complete this process? Tell them it generally took about seventy days to complete.

Say: First, all of the fluids, such as blood and water were drained out of the body. Next, the major organs such as liver, stomach, intestines, and lungs were removed through a cut made in the left side of the stomach, and the brain was removed through the nose. Ask: Does anyone remember the hard word that names the containers made for holding the organs that have been removed? (canopic [ca NO pic] jars) Next, the body would be packed in a large quantity of a special mineral, a salt found at the bottom of certain empty lake beds, which would dry the body to the point where it was really leathery. Washing came next, then packing in many layers of linen cloth, some that had been soaked in another hardening material, followed by several that were dry.

Finally, a heavier material, similar to our cardboard or papier mache, would be wound around the body or it could have been placed in a hard case called a sarcophagus (sar KAH fa gus). In either case, the outside case or casing, when it was completely dry, would be decorated with paints that showed figures of humans, gods and goddesses, and hieroglyphic symbols. Who can give us an example of a religious symbol we learned about when we studied Judaism, Christianity, and Islam? (six-pointed star and menorah, cross, crescent and five-pointed star)

Tell them that the Egyptians often used animals as symbols and that many animals appeared in the picture language that the Egyptians used during the development of their civilization. Show them examples from one of the books listed above or--as one example--the illustration below of a man and a woman of Egyptian royalty. Have the children pay particular attention first to the headdresses of the two figures. Ask: What symbolic animals do you see? (head of turkey vulture on one, cobra on the other) Brainstorm with them about the qualities that BCP DRAFT ART 55

First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 28 - Egyptian Art

a vulture might symbolize and then what a cobra might symbolize. Tell them that many pictures

of Egyptian royalty also show a round disc between two horns. Ask: What do you think a round disc would represent? (a symbol for the sun) Remind them that the sun was considered a god in the Egyptian religion. Ask: What reasons can you think of that people might consider the sun a god? (source of life, of food for people, animals, and plants)

Tell the students you want each of them to pick a symbol--either one they have seen in their studies of Egypt or one they create out of their own imaginations. Say: Between now and the next art class, you are to think about the symbol you will choose and what it represents. If the students need some examples of possibilities, show them the symbols reproduced below. Read through the words for the picture language with them. Then explain that the other symbols are some examples of those found on ancient mummy cases and in scenes painted on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs.

Say to the students: Think a little bit about how you will draw your symbol so the rest of us can recognize it. Brainstorm with the class the many images they have seen while studying ancient Egypt--stalks of grain, sacred birds and animals, a sphinx, pyramids, eyes, palm trees, etc. Make a list of the possibilities, and put it somewhere on the board where it can be saved until the next art class.


First Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 28 - Egyptian Art


First Grade - Lesson 29 - Visual Arts - Egyptian Art Activity


Review cave painting as ancient artistic activity.

Compare Egyptian tomb paintings and Ice Age cave paintings.

Create class painting combining at least one glyph from each student.


Black markers for each child, other colors optional

9 x 12 drawing paper, one for each child

Heavy brown wrapping paper long enough to accomodate class mural

Paste or glue for assembling the class mural

Egyptian symbols reproduced for Lesson 28

Note for Teacher

The students were introduced to material about hieroglyphics in History/Geography Lesson 41.


Remind the children that they learned about ancient cave painting at the beginning of the year when they were studying about the Ice Age in September History/Geography (American Civilization Lesson 3). Say: In September you each made a replica of a cave painting. Today we are going to complete a class project of a painting that might have been found on the wall of the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh.

Brainstorm with the students the things that are similar and those that are different when comparing ancient European Ice Age cave paintings and ancient Egyptian tomb painting. This can serve as a review of both the Art and the History/Geography lessons for this unit on Egypt. One obvious point of comparison would be to discuss the differences in the way animals were depicted in cave painting as compared to the representation of animals (and the figures that combine animal heads and human bodies, animal bodies and human heads) in Egyptian art.

Talk with the students about the magical beliefs of the ancient Egyptians: the need for burying tools and food that a royal person might need in the next life after dying. Tell them that painting scenes in Egyptian tombs also seemed to be a kind of magical promise to the person who would be buried in the tomb that the wonderful events illustrated in the scenes would come true for that person in the next life.

Ask: Who remembers what you were supposed to do between the last art class and this? (choose an image, either from those they have seen in Egyptian art or from their own imaginations to represent in an art work) Show them the list the class compiled in the last class plus the symbolic images copied for the class in Lesson 28 and say: The only requirement is that your image be simple in design and that in your own mind you are quite clear about what it represents for you.

Pass out paper and black markers for each student and have them make their symbols. (Alternatively, they might want to draw the symbols first with a pencil, then darken and elaborate with the marker.) Tell the students to try to make the symbols large enough to nearly fill the paper. When all of the symbols have been completed, try to make space in the middle of the floor so that they can all be seen face up, in no particular order.


First Grade - Lesson 29 - Visual Arts - Egyptian Art Activity

Ask each child to first tell you the word his or her symbol represents and then write it on a 3 x 5 index card. (Help anyone who needs assistance with spelling or writing.) Have each person use a paper clip to attach it to the picture. (There may well be duplications of eyes, birds, round suns, etc. but that's okay.) Ask them to help you begin to make a consecutive "wall mural" out of the various drawings by choosing an order that will make sense. (There will be many possibilities.) When you have agreed upon the order, give each child the appropriate number, and have them paste their drawings in that order on the long, stretched out piece of heavy brown paper. You may want to leave the index cards for a few days, until it is clear to everyone just what this wall mural "says." (Even if it turns out that the class will have to create a kind of "nonsense" story out of the symbols, help them make up some kind of narrative that pleases them.) Once all the children are able to do this, someone can remove the clipped cards.

If they would like, allow the students to embellish their mural drawings with colored markers and suggest a title which you can write out for them in large letters above the mural.