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TBH Teachers: Who is Buried Where - and Why? Finding Cultural Universals with Ancient Egyptians and Texas Caddo Indians

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Subject: World Geography

Grade: High School (9th-12th Grades)

Author: Carol Schlenk, revised by Jason Terry (2023)

Time Duration: Two 50-minute class periods or one block period

Overview: Cultural universals are the basic behaviors practiced by all cultures, regardless of location or era. Studying cultural universals helps us understand the customs of other societies both historically and in today's multicultural world. Humans burying and honoring their dead is one of these cultural universals. In this lesson, students will discover that burial practices of the Caddo Indians in east Texas around 1000 years ago and those of the ancient Egyptians over 4000 years ago, had a number of interesting differences and similarities.

Objective: Students will define cultural universals and work with a partner to conduct guided research on burial practices of the Caddo Indians in Texas and the ancient Egyptians. After collecting data on the two cultures, they will use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast burial practices of the two cultures and use their research data to write a comparison/contrast essay.

TEKS: World Geography, High School

  • (16), Culture. The student understands how the components of culture affect the way people live and shape the characteristics of regions
  • (16A), describe distinctive cultural patterns and landscapes associated with different places in Texas, the United States, and other regions of the world and how these patterns influenced the processes of innovation and diffusion
  • (16B), describe elements of culture, including language, religion, beliefs, institutions, and technologies
  • (17A), describe and compare patterns of culture such as language, religion, land use, education, and customs that make specific regions of the world distinctive
  • (21A), analyze and evaluate the validity and utility of multiple sources of geographic information such as primary and secondary sources, aerial photographs, and maps
  • (21B), generate summaries, generalizations, and thesis statements supported by evidence
  • (21C), use social studies terminology correctly
  • (21D), create original work using effective written communication skills, including proper citations and understanding and avoiding plagiarism
  • (23A), plan, organize, and complete a research project that involves asking geographic questions; acquiring, organizing, and analyzing information; answering questions; and communicating results


  • Exterior Image of Caddo Mound C Burial (included)
  • Exterior Image of the Great Pyramid of Giza (included)
  • Interior Image of Caddo Mound C Burial (included)
  • Interior Image of the Great Pyramid of Giza (included)
  • Lesson Vocabulary (included)
  • Caddo Burial Notes and Egyptian Burial Notes Graphic Organizers (included)
  • Teacher answer keys for Caddo and Egyptian (included)
  • Who's Buried Where - And Why? Venn Diagram (included)
  • Internet access and computers for research

Activities and Procedures:

Day 1

Step 1: Write the term cultural universal on the board or overhead and ask students if they can define it (to define this and other words in bold, see Lesson Vocabulary). Guide them to the correct answer and write it on the board. All societies, everywhere, have some form of religion, government, marriage, etc, all of which are cultural universals. Have students brainstorm more examples.

Note: See the following website for more on cultural universals:

Step 2: Point out that one important cultural universal is honoring and burying our dead. Have students brainstorm reasons why human burials are so universally practiced. Why is so much attention paid to dead bodies? Have students give examples of how different cultures treat their dead, e.g., cremation, burial at sea, placement on platform, etc.

Step 3: Ask students if a society's elite individuals are given more attention when they die than ordinary individuals. Have students brainstorm ways important individuals are honored in death, e.g., state funerals for presidents and royalty, elaborate grave markers such as statues for important people, etc. Explain that they will be examining the burials of important individuals from the Texas Caddo Indian culture and the ancient Egyptian culture.

Step 4: Display the exterior image of Caddo Indian Burial Mound C in east Texas, followed by the exterior image of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Point out that these specific burial sites were built for important individuals in different areas of the world during very different time periods and there was no way these Texan Indians and ancient Egyptians could have communicated and shared information about burial practices with each other. Yet these burial sites exhibit some of the same characteristics. Display interior images of Caddo Mound C and the Pyramid of Giza. Explain that students will be researching both these burial sites to discover how they are alike, i.e., what makes them cultural universals, and how they are different. They will then write a comparison/contrast essay using their research data.

Step 5: Have students choose a partner. Distribute one copy of the Caddo Burial Notes Graphic Organizer and one copy of the Egyptian Burial Notes Graphic Organizer to each set of partners. Explain that partners can divide their research, each student filling in one set of notes, or both students working on each set of notes simultaneously. The Egyptian Burial Notes Graphic Organizer requires independent research. Point out that the Caddo Burial Notes Graphic Organizer offers the following pertinent websites:

Step 6: Have students begin researching and filling in their graphic organizers. Note: The teacher may use the Burial Notes Answer Keys to help guide students toward appropriate answers. Correct answers will vary slightly, as they will come from different historical sources.

NOTE: Neither the Caddo Indian Burial Mound C in east Texas, nor the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt contained many pottery grave goods, although we know such items have been found in other Caddo and Egyptian burials. Pothunters, also known as grave robbers, often take artifacts from archeological sites without permission.

Step 7: When students have completed their research notes, display a copy of the Who's Buried Where- And Why? Venn Diagram on the board or overhead. Ask volunteers to offer one example of how the Caddo mound and the Egyptian pyramid are alike. Write that answer on the board and repeat the process for an example of how the two are different.

Step 8: Give each student a copy of the Who's Buried Where- And Why? Venn Diagram (one per each student). Have them fill in the examples of similar and different characteristics displayed on the board and then work with their partner to complete filling out their Venn diagrams, listing at least four examples of similar characteristics and four examples of different characteristics. Partners should share information and each partner should have identical information on his/her completed diagram.

Day 2

Step 1: Re-display the definition of cultural universal on the board. Remind students that today they will be writing a comparison/contrast essay using the research data they gathered yesterday.

Step 2: Have students get with their partner and get out their completed Venn diagrams.

Step 3: Briefly go over the basics of writing a comparison/contrast essay.

Step 4: Refer again to the definition of cultural universal on the board and instruct students to discuss in their essays how the term is relevant to the burial practices of the Caddo Indians and ancient Egyptians.

Step 5: Have students write their essays, utilizing the information on their Venn diagrams. Partners may work separately or together on their essays, but each individual student must turn in a separate essay.

Step 6: Have students print out their completed essays or post them on a document sharing website and turn them in for grading.

Closure: In today’s world, we meet and interact with people from many different world cultures. Understanding cultural universals helps us identify with other cultures, both regarding their histories and current everyday lives. Investigating rituals and practices surrounding death reveals much about two different groups culture, history, and spiritual beliefs.

Extension Activities: Discuss with students how today’s American burial rituals compare to those of the Caddo Indians and Egyptians.

Image Credits:

  • Exterior Image of Caddo Mound C Burial: Courtesy of Texas Historical Commission
  • Exterior Image of Great Pyramid of Giza: Wikipedia Commons
  • Interior Image of Caddo Mound C Burial: Painting by Nola Davis, courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.
  • Interior Image of Great Pyramid of Giza: Wikipedia Commons