Mystery Tools of the Past

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11155

How would you like to be a Menuisier or an Orfevre? What tools would you need? Someday someone may dig up your laptop and marvel at how primitive it is! Learn more about the history of work and tools!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Imagine that you walk into a large room. In the room, you find a series of chisels, planks of wood, a couple different saws, and sawdust spread upon the floor. There are half-completed chairs and other wooden products situated on one side of the room. There is no sign on the door to tell you what kind of workspace this is, nor is there anyone present to tell you.

  • Can you tell what job is done there?

Let's take on some more challenging mysteries in the history of work!

You could pretty easily tell that the space described above was a carpenter's workshop.

  • How could you tell?

The physical evidence was clear, and besides, even if you don't personally know any carpenters, you are familiar with the products that carpenters produce. You used the power of observation and compared observations with your experience to reach a conclusion.

Suppose you are faced with less-familiar evidence.

  • What do you do?
  • Take a look at just this Mystery Tool Picture 1, retrieved from Direct Industry.
  • Can you say exactly what this piece of equipment is?
  • Do you know exactly what it does?
  • What makes you think so?
  • Write down your best hypothesis.
  • Now click on the white arrow to take a look at the Mystery Tool Picture 2.
  • Revise your hypothesis based on new evidence.
  • Was your original hypothesis correct?
  • What changed?

By looking at the surrounding details, or the context, it became much easier to determine what the tool is and how it is used. It is similar to the strategies you use with reading a challenging passage, except here you are looking for visual clues rather than word clues or surrounding details in a sentence.

Reflect and discuss with a parent or teacher:

  1. What is the relationship between equipment and work?
  2. Why is equipment so useful in giving us information about work?
  3. What kind of equipment does your parent or teacher use for his or her work?

These strategies can be applied to a lot of visual evidence to learn more about the past. Images can be jam-packed with information, which is why smart people like Denis Diderot used them to record information about the time in which he lived.

Continue on to the Got It? section to "work" at a guessing game!

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