History Mystery Labs

Labs with lesson plans

History Mystery labs are self-contained 1 hour lessons designed with the Common Core for Social Studies in mind. In each of them students examine a variety of sources of information to reach a conclusion. They involve both primary and secondary sources as well as integrating multiple forms of information presentation from maps to video clips. Students must defend their conclusion with cited evidence from the exhibits. 

They all address the following CCSS standards:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 - Citing textual evidence
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4  - Content Vocabulary
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7 - Integrating multiple sources

The labs are highly engaging and are one of the few opportunities students are given to truly be historians. 
Check them out!

Historians have long believed that Meriwether Lewis committed suicide shortly after his famous journey with William Clark. Recent discoveries have led to some questioning that conclusion. Could he have been murdered? Could the government have been involved?



When 15 soldiers mysteriously disappear what is one to do? Well, settle in their former home of course! In this mystery involving the first English settlement in the New World we will attempt to determine what happened to the over 100 settlers who, briefly, called Roanoke their home. Did they safely escape to live with friendly natives? Were they secretly attacked by the Spanish? Let's find out!

Determine the cause of the disappearance of the Classic Maya by examining soil samples, reading first hand accounts, analyzing skull fractures and listening to an interview with the world's leading Maya archaeologist. Could the cause have been as simple as a massive famine or as mysterious as an alien invasion?


Law and Order: Cathay

Did Marco Polo really travel to China in the late 1200s? The people of his own time had trouble believing his incredible stories of gigantic palaces and black rocks that burned like wood. Some historians today struggle with his descriptions of strange beasts and men with heads like large dogs. Plus, how could one live in China for 20 years and not even mention The Great Wall? Find out by examining pages from Polo's original text, learning more about Mongol rule of China and investigating just who exactly Rustichello da Pisa was.


Cold Case Rome

Imagine a murder of the world's most powerful man witnessed by dozens. Who would be so bold as to plan such an event? The commonly accepted theory is a group of senators conspired to do the job but there are many holes in that theory. You will find out by hearing from some of the world's leading historians, reading Caesar's own words in the days before his death and listening to the defense testimony of one of the senators. Your conclusions may shock you and change your understanding of the incredible Julius Caesar.



In a church on Easter Sunday of 1478 an attempt was made to wipe out the Medici dynasty in one single attack. The attack was only half successful. We know who the attackers were but we do not know who organized the clearly well-planned attack. You will attempt to find out by decoding a secret letter, listening to witness testimony and exploring why some people might have been angry enough at the Medici to commit murder. Your suspects include a powerful rival family, a former employee of the Medici and the pope himself!


House: London

While no longer a mystery today (or is it?!) the reasons for the spread of the Black Death in Medieval Europe were unknown at the time (and for hundreds of years later.) Most at the time believed it was God's punishment for various sins or for failing to retake the Holy Land.

Examine the effects of pet exterminations and Medieval protective clothing . Review nursery rhymes and maps to get a sense of the dread of the pestilence and try to determine what made it so violent. Put yourself in the shoes of an biohazard investigator and figure out how we might prevent this disease from ever rising again.



The medieval West African empires were built on trade. They had massive reserves of gold that they used to bring in materials and goods to make them prosper. In this lab a new mineral, halite, is being introduced to Africa. Will it be worth more than gold? You will examine a deadliest warrior battle, an old fairy tale, modern magazine ads and even a jar of human sweat and decide what value to set for this new mineral.