Activity Plan for Leave What You Find

Exploring Natural Settings and Archaeological Areas

This activity should take about 60 minutes.

What Your Group Will Learn

After participating in this activity plan, which is designed to help participants learn about the value of leaving natural features and cultural artifacts undisturbed, participants will be able to

  • Describe the characteristics of an archaeological or historical (cultural) resource.
  • Discuss what happens when cultural resources are removed from a site.
  • List at least three ways of enjoying cultural resources without taking them home.

Your participants will imagine themselves as part of a futuristic science mission returning to Earth to uncover the secrets of our planet’s ancient inhabitants. Participants will try to construct a picture of a vanished people based upon the objects they find.

Materials and Preparation


Gather old camping items such as a tent peg, old frying pan, piece of rope, burnt wood, blackened rocks, a child’s toy, an ax, and a bullet shell, or cut pictures of these items from magazines or newspapers. Use your imagination to add other items. Have one object for each person. If conducting this activity inside, you may want to place the items on a bedsheet to protect floors.


  • Read the entire lesson plan and the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace thoroughly.
  • Scatter artifacts (camping items) in an area away from the view of the group (preferably outside), and dump the trash in one place.

Grabbing Your Group’s Attention (10 minutes)

Explain to participants that they are traveling in the year 2172 on spaceships returning to Earth. They are on a science mission to find out how earthlings lived hundreds of years ago. You may want to use a prop, such as a model spaceship, to embellish the story. Two different science teams will visit Earth. What will they find?

Steps for Teaching the Activity (30 minutes)

Beam Me Down

Break the group into two science teams. Explain that two teams will take turns visiting the planet. One team will “beam down” to observe the site while the other waits inside.

Have the first team view the objects and site without picking up the artifacts. Tell team members to remember their initial impression of the site and be able to describe what the people who lived here were doing.

After viewing the site, have each member of the first team pick up one or more of the objects and hide it so it is not visible. This leaves only half the objects to tell the archaeological story when the second team arrives.

Beam down the second science team, and have its members look at the site and the remaining artifacts. Have each person from this team pick up an artifact. Tell them to remember their initial impression of the site and be able to describe what the people that lived here were doing.

Do the following:

  • Have both teams sit down together. Ask members of the second team to describe their impression of the site and past civilization. Ask participants: What did you learn about this past culture based upon the artifacts you found?
  • Have the first team show the artifacts they removed from the site. Ask members of the first team to describe their impressions of the site and civilization. Ask participants: What did you learn about this past culture based upon your evaluation of the site when all the artifacts were present?

Return to the site and discuss what later explorers might think about this site. Ask participants the following:

  • What impression would you have now that all of the artifacts are gone?
  • How has the value of the site changed since all artifacts have been removed?
  • How has this activity helped you understand the efforts of today’s archaeologists?

Wrapping Up the Activity (30 minutes)

Your participants are great scientists! Your group knows the importance of leaving items that they find in their natural setting. A group discussion will help determine how well each person has learned the value of this lesson.

  • Discuss the idea that the items discovered by the group represent artifacts and evidence about our culture. Similarly, the artifacts we sometimes find in the outdoors provide valuable information about people who lived here long ago.
  • Have participants relate the objects they found on their science mission to something that might be found on public lands (from Native Americans or pioneers). Have the group summarize why it is important for people to leave what they find. Clarify the difference between objects of historical value and common trash or debris. If necessary, remind participants that it is against the law to remove or destroy cultural resources.
  • Talk about what people do with artifacts when they take them home. Generally the artifact sits on a shelf or in a drawer. How much pleasure does it bring when it is removed from the site? Have the group brainstorm ways to enjoy and learn from an archaeological site without taking the artifacts home.
  • Important: Discuss how leaving what you find applies to plants, animals, and the outdoor setting in general. Picking flowers, removing antlers or petrified wood, cutting tree branches, building lean-tos and chairs, moving rocks and stumps, carving on trees and stone, and digging tent trenches are all examples of ways people detract from the natural outdoors. Use the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace to lead discussion.

Congratulations on conducting a well-prepared meeting for your group!

Additional Activities

  • Visit an archaeological site. Discuss what might have been found there 1,000 years ago, 100 years ago, and 10 years ago.
  • Tip over a garbage can. What do the contents tell you about the people? Which contents are likely to remain unchanged for hundreds of years? What will people in the future think about our culture when they examine our garbage?