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 Image from Minecraft. Bricks are from biomes o' plenty. Thatch from Botania.

Minecraft and Archaeology

Adapted from a blog post by Brian Ballsun-Stanton

Minecraft has a fantastic history of mimesis, providing a wonderful visualisation platform through the "recreation" of medieval towns and the Ancient World. However, archaeology isn't being done inside these pixelated historical behemoths. 

Enter Minecraft Archaeology, a pedagogical experience centred around the creation, destruction, and excavation of historically accurate dwellings across three distinct time periods.

Teams of students work together to build (and then destroy) villages, walls, and farms, stripping the land of resources in their wake. The scars from their mining and harvesting will remain even after the students have vacated their settlements, compounded upon by the "civilisations" that follow. It's up to the "archaeologists", the final team of students, to interpret these scars and recreate the settlements built by the students who came before them. 

By building, destroying, surveying, and excavating, it is possible to run an "experimental archaeology" project within Minecraft, showing off settlements spanning geography and time, as well as demonstrating what might be missed by typical archaeological methods.

For Students

First, pick a location! Central AnatoliaMessenia, or Umbria? Each geographical location has three unique time periods, each with its own structure and materials. If possible, have students working on each location. 

Since all three sites have different times periods, the first time period you'll be working on (for Central Anatolia, that's Central Anatolian Neolithic) will be referred to as Period 1 and so on. 

Once you've selected your location, it's time to begin work on Period 1. 

You can find material lists and instructions in your location pages. You may use this wiki as a basic reference, but you're also encouraged to search for more information and pictures. Make sure that you spend the entire build in survival mode - time consuming, but necessary for authenticity! (Can't find a material or figure out how to use a tool? Click here!) Document your process thoroughly with screenshots and save them carefully, they'll be important for your final presentation. Once you've completed your build, it's time for the fireworks. Very metaphorical but very destructive fireworks. What's the most historically accurate means of destruction for your location and time period? Fire, explosions, and floods may now ensue. 

You may now rotate to another site to work on the next period! Another team will be coming over to your site to continue the historical progression of time. Besides giving you more variety, rotating also avoids a building monoculture. Resources are likely to have been depleted by the group that came before you, never fear, your teacher can replenish them for you.

A separate team may also be formed, at the discretion of your teacher. This is the archaeology team. Their job is to examine the remnants of the settlements constructed by Teams 1 to 3 and the recreate the villages, as accurately as possible, in creative mode. Screenshots of the original build and the archaeologists' recreations can be compared to provide evidence of what the archaeological explorations uncovered and what it missed. 

For Educators

There are three "sites" (Central AnatoliaMessenia, or Umbria), each with three different time periods (hereafter referred to as Period 1, 2, and 3). After each time period, it is recommended that students rotate. For example, after working on Central Anatolia for Period 1, students should be rotated to Messenia to work on period 2, and so on. Rotating is vital in preventing unrealistic building monoculture and provides students with increased variety. Therefore, it is recommended that you assign students to build on at least 2 of the sites and not just 1 of them. Ensure that they spend the entire building time in survival mode (a guide to the various commands, modes, and terms, of Minecraft can be found here). Creepers, Skeletons, and Zombies are a thrilling substitute to the actual dangers faced in the ancient times and are an organic means of structural destruction. 

The village can be built following visual guides and inventories found in the site pages, with separate instructions for each time period. Building in survival mode necessitates the gathering of resources as would be a Term's work for a group of high school students and would make an engaging high school project. As the groups work, remind them to screen shot their progress and final settlements. Their final presentation would discuss their historical references, screenshots of the process, and a discussion of why their placed things the way they did. 

Once the all settlements in Period 1 have been completed and presented, partial destruction of the buildings should now commence. (Instructions on destruction may be found here) Allow students the cathartic experience of carefully destroying their creations through fire, explosions, and floods. As a pedagogic extra, require them to provide historical justification for why they destroyed the thing the way they did. Encourage them to document the destruction. Using Worldedit, cover the entire surface of the landscape with a distinct layer of dirt. Biomes o' plenty, one of the included mods, will provide a multitude of dirt types for this purpose. Then, replant the trees to return to world to a more natural state. 

Now, instruct the students to switch sites. They should be commencing working on Period 2 at a new geographical location. Repeat the entire process twice to complete Period 2 and Period 3 settlements at all sites. 

A separate Archaeological Team team should also be created, note that this activity requires higher level skills and is best suited to University students. It's important that the archaeological team is kept separate from the building team since they will be attempting to recreate the settlements, purely from their excavations. The Archaeological Team's first task is to determine where to excavate by running surface surveys. Once the team has identified where to excavate, they may run excavations, recording using traditional recording sheets. As part of their report, it is recommended that they be asked to recreate the villages they have run excavations in, in creative mode. This will save time and focus the experience on the archaeology. Screenshots taken by the Building Teams from Periods 1 to 3 can then be compared to the Archaeological Team's recreations with the efficacy of their excavation skills being assessed. 

The Team

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