Help your students get excited about learning history with this fun, hands on history unit for kids of all ages. Your kids will have fun with this Ancient Mesopotamia History Unit that uses the Epic of Gilgamesh, fun hands-on activities, and more in this 3 part unit.
Ancient Mesopotamia History Unit
Ancient Mesopotamia, often referred to as the cradle of civilization, incorporates the cultures of the Sumerians, the Babylonians and the Assyrians. Lying on a large area known as the fertile crescent, Mesopotamia is generally accepted as one of the world’s oldest yet most advanced civilizations. The very name Mesopotamia means ‘between two rivers’ and so it is. Situated between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the peoples of Ancient Mesopotamia were able to benefit from fertile lands due to the flooding of these rivers, as well as excellent transport links between city states. There is nothing my children love more than a good picture book. Add to it dress up, food and heaps of hands on activities and you have the recipe for a hugely successful unit study. This introductory post will show you:
- The essential resources required for this study
- How to make an easy no sew Ancient Mesopotamia costume
- How to make a paper mache map of the area you will be studying
- How to make some Mesopotamian sweets from an original recipe found written on ancient cuneiform tablets currently held at Yale University
Ancient Mesopotamia Book Recommendations
There are four books which are essential for this study.
Mesopotamia No Sew Costume
The people in ancient Mesopotamia wore cloth made from wool. Felt is perfect to imitate the wool feeling and is such a simple material to work with, requiring no finishing or hemming. It is also fairly inexpensive. The costumes we made imitated the clothes Gilgamesh is wearing on the front cover of the book ‘Gilgamesh the King’.
- Materials Needed: child (for sizing), felt, scissors and glue gun
- Lay felt on floor doubled up, with fold at the top. Have child lay down with fold parallel to neck. Cut a rectangle around three inches wider than the child on each side and at the required length
- Remove child. Fold material width-ways so the original fold is in half. Cut a very small quarter of a circle from the folded side as shown. This will be the neck of the tunic.
- Unfold and slit a few inches down one side of the neck line to allow the head to fit through. This slit will be at the back of the tunic and will not be seen.
- Leaving a large gap for the arms, glue together the seams using the hot glue gun. Allow to dry and turn the tunic the other side out so that the glued seam is on the inside and therefore not seen.
- Cut wide strips for belts and tie around the waist, loosely knotting at the back.
I thought just their basic costumes were kind of cute! However, I wanted them to have some fun decorating a head band and a belt, much like the one Gilgamesh is wearing on the cover. I cut enough felt for both the headband and the belt as well as all the decorations, and let them have some fun decorating them:
- Their head bands were made from pre-measured strips of brown felt. The girls glued two red strips to the edges and allowed them to dry. I tied them behind their heads.
- They removed their belts and arranged my cut pieces of felt as they wished. I kept it simple, but you can cut any shape you wish. Again, I was attempting to replicate Gilgamesh’s tunic on the front cover of ‘Gilgamesh the King’
- Once they had the arrangement they wanted, my seven year old glue gunned the felt in place.
As you can see, they were very happy with their new costumes! Although this is a fairly inexpensive and simple way to make dress up, we had huge fun when we attempted to make Mesopotamian costumes out of black bin bags (Photos are at the bottom of the post – obviously take care with little children), and even easier when we dressed paper dolls in home-made Mesopotamian material costumes (photos in middle of post).
Ancient Mesopotamia Food and Drink
Recipes survive from the ancient Mesopotamia civilizations. I will be sharing an authentic recipe in each of my posts.
Today’s recipe is a simple Mesopotamian sweet and is perfect to serve with goat’s milk and eat whilst listening to the picture books being read. We mixed together flour, raisins, dates, honey and butter, rolled them in some extra flour and gently fried them. There are no amounts given in the recipe so I mixed a scant handful of chopped raisins, another of chopped dates, about two table spoons of butter, about three table spoons of honey and as much flour as needed to make a dough type consistency. We then fried them lightly: These were cooled slightly and served with a mug of goat’s milk:
Ancient Mesopotamia Map
It is important the children know which area of the world they are studying. Each lesson I point out the location on a huge map of the world we have in our hallway and show them exactly where Mesopotamia used to be on the map. It is important that they know it is no longer called Mesopotamia, but was situated where modern day Iran and Iraq lie.
We love to make paper mache maps in our school, mainly because they are so much fun to make and then paint! They are also very handy in illustrating the geography of the early civilizations and why it was here rather than Outer Mongolia that one of the first civilizations flourished (two rivers gave water and a flood plain of fertile lands as well as good travel links via river and then sea).
All you need is cardstock, art mache, and paint:
Hint: I suggest using the beautiful map of Mesopotamia on the inside covers of Gilgamesh the King as well as a lovely clear map on page six in the Eyewitness Mesopotamia book
I used this to hand draw a map vaguely similar. I included the rivers and some of the seas. I also made sure it included Egypt and the Nile as we would be studying this next and I wanted the children to have a clear idea of where these two cultures were, geographically, in relation to each other. It is this outline that the children use to place a thin layer of art mache on.
Leave the right flap empty – we’ll stick photos of different things we will be learning about in the course of this unit study.
I make up the art mache to the thickness of scrambled eggs because it dries swiftly at this consistency, but feel free to follow the instructions on the packet:
The children then placed the art mache over the lines. You can add the mountain ranges if you wish (I added the Zagros Mountain range and the Taurus mountains). Be mindful of the folds in the card, avoiding them if possible so that you are able to fold the map back to its original A4 size.
Once you have covered the outline and you are happy with your map you need to allow it to dry at least overnight, sometimes longer depending on how thickly you applied the mache.
Once dry give the children paint and let them at it! Explain the areas which need to be blue (bodies of water) and the areas which need to be green (land). And yes, my girls are absolutely in their pajamas. I always keep old ones on hand for them to paint in!
Once painted in one flat color I have the children blot different hues of blues, greens and browns to give the map a more realistic appearance:
Here is the final map: We will be adding labels in the next three sessions. Once dry you should be able to fold it up and keep it safe for further use while studying Mesopotamia. During our last study of Ancient Mesopotamia we made file folder maps and then stuck pictures of ancient Mesopotamian landmarks (such as a ziggarat) where they were found. These were a simple way to have some map adventures without too much mess!
Learning about the Mesopotamian Culture
You are now dressed like a Mesopotamian, eating like a Mesopotamian and you know where they come from and why. Next is to discover just how amazing the Mesopotamian people actually were. I will be writing three further posts, and in each I will be sharing some fabulous fun hands-on History ideas for exploring this culture further.
More Hands-on History Units
- Medieval Times Unit – 4 weeks covering life in a castle, knights, Medieval Church, and Medieval Music during the Middle Ages
- Early Explorers Unit – 5 week unit covering Vikings, Marco Polo & Henry the Navigator, Christopher Columbus / Vasco de Gama / Vespucci, Magellan / Aztecs / Conquistadors, and Sir Frances Drake / Henry Hudson / Jacques Cartier
- Native Americans – 5 week unit covering Woodland Tribes, Plains Tribes, Southwest Tribes, Pacific Northwest, and Seminole.
- Colonial America Unit – 4 week Early Settlers unit covering Jamestown, Pilgrims, Dutch & Sweeds, and William Penn / Pennsylvania Dutch
- American Revolution Unit – 4 week unit covering War is Brewing, The shot Heard Round the World, Declaration of Independence, Freedom at Last
- Westward Expansion – 3 week unit covering Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea, The Oregon Trail, The Pony Express, Gold Rush,, and the Transcontinental Railroad