September 21, 2017

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Unbury the Past: Apps and Websites for Exploring Ancient Worlds | Mix It Up

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Perhaps the most famous quote on history comes from the late Harvard professor and writer, George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Without familiarity with ancient histories, students lack the fundamental knowledge that enables a greater understanding of the world today.

Kids might be aware of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Egypt, but do they know about Mesopotamia, the Assyrians, or the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers? The following apps and websites help present old information through a new lens, and may just pique students’ interest in an ancient culture or civilization. We hope you’ll add these resources to your teaching toolbox, share them with fellow educators, and help your students and patrons unearth the past.

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Websites, like some facts of ancient history, can sometimes fade away into obsolescence before we truly come to know, understand, and appreciate them. That’s not the case below. Here are some of the best and most regularly used websites in our libraries.

Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE)

Free | Gr 7 Up  The AHE cites itself as a small nonprofit dedicated to providing high-quality history content to enthusiasts, teachers, and students for free. Students can explore topics using a time line, a geographical search, and natural language searches. The site is well designed and organized and contains information in many formats—videos, photos, maps, and text.

National Geographic’s Ancient World News (AWN)

Free | Gr 6 Up  Part of the greater National Geographic site, AWN is of the quality one would expect from NatGeo. Highlighting contemporary news concerning discoveries about the ancient world and ancient artifacts, this site connects current events with ancient history. Some recent examples include the destruction of ancient sites by ISIS, an in-depth look at the life of Bronze Age women, and the Shroud of Turin. Since AWN is a part of the larger NatGeo site, natural language searches aren’t as fruitful as on a dedicated site.

Ancient Civilizations Online

Free | Gr 5 Up  Truly an online version of a textbook, the site features information about major aspects of prehistoric world and takes readers through Egypt, the early Middle East, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, Africa, South Asia, China, Japan, and South and Central America. Accessible language is used to describe the time periods and major events; sidebars contain links that lead to external websites on the topic. While some of these links may be broken from time to time, they do provide additional information on most subjects.

Ancient Origins

Free | High School  Billed as a pop archaeology site, Ancient Origins strives to provide the latest research as well as alternative views regarding science, archaeology, mythology, religion, and history. The “Ancient Places” tab is arranged geographically, and highlights structures and sites with cultural significance. Teens will be intrigued by the legends, mythology, and unexplained phenomena explored around cultures and artifacts. Because of the alternative nature of some of the information, this site is best explored by students who have some knowledge of the topic at hand.

Codex Mendoza

Free | High School  Perhaps the most important document for understanding the pre-Columbian history of Mexico, the Codex Mendoza is an incredibly important primary source from the ancient Aztecs that documents Mexico’s history up until the arrival of Spaniards in about 1541. For older students who have the patience to sift through an extraordinary amount of information—and some incredible images—look no further than this unique resource.

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Type “ancient history” into Apple’s app store and be amazed at the sheer volume of seemingly flashy—but uninteresting—options. We separate the wheat from the chaff with this list of favorites.

Timeline Eons (iOS)

Free version; $5.99 paid version | Gr 4–8  This powerful app features a time line of the history of the universe, complete with images, photos, and clean, explanatory text. Though the app itself doesn’t provide many options for interaction—save for scrolling through the history of the Earth (and the universe)—teachers and librarians could use it to challenge students to find a historical event and unearth an unusual fact. A good resource that offers a clear, visual representation of the history of the planet, which might just blow some kids away when they see the vast amount of time Earth has been around.

Mummy (iOS)

$1.99 | Gr 6–8  A powerful, in-depth look into the preservation of the dead in ancient Egypt. Hortesnakht, a priestess who lived sometime in the third century BCE, is a well-preserved mummy, which has been studied by researchers at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The app includes a slew of facts about Horesnakht’s life and death, including photos of her mummified body—wrapped and unwrapped. Photos of her body being transported and examined and the resulting CT scans are included, but perhaps the most compelling illustrations are the facial reconstruction images.

Britannica Kids Ancient Egypt (iOS)

$4.99 | Gr 5–8  Essentially an interactive textbook on Egyptian history, Britannica Kids Ancient Egypt is a rich resource with detailed information. The app includes sections on hieroglyphics, gods and the afterlife, dynasties of Egypt, a sampling of photos, and an interesting section on everyday life. The app even has a few games that will appeal to users seeking a history-themed break from what can become monotonous reading in some of the other sections. Other notable Britannica Kids apps include Aztec Empire and Ancient Rome ($4.99 each).

Fun Twitter Accounts to Follow

@historyancient (History of the Ancient)
Fun quizzes (“What era are you from?”) and punchy pictures serve as reminders of yesteryear.

@bennu (Talking Pyramids)
Peruse daily postings of “breaking news” about ancient history. An original platform for hearing about new academic projects centered on history.

Stacy Dillon is the lower school librarian at LREI in Manhattan; Amy Laughlin is a children’s librarian at Darien Library, CT.

Find additional topics at “Mix It Up” .

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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