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Archaeologist challenges student assumptions about global cultures

Yes, the Inca Empire did in fact sacrifice children to appease their gods. How do you feel about that?

Such was the discussion when Michelle Carvalho spoke to Grade 8 students in their theory of knowledge class on Dec. 1. You may know Carvalho as the associate director in Upper Canada College’s university counselling office. However, after English teacher Heather Crawford read her faculty profile on the UCC website, she invited the former archaeologist to speak to her students.

The idea was to use Carvalho’s real-life experiences on archaeological digs in South America and western Europe as a springboard for discussion.

“The goal is to remove the filter of one’s own personal experience and attitudes when examining another people or culture,” says Carvalho.

The ability to do just this is a valuable tool for life-long learning and one of the key aims of the International Baccalaureate program.

Upon examination, the students learned that the Inca were deeply spiritual people who were tied to the land. They interpreted their active volcano as a sign of a god’s displeasure.

“They felt the sacrifice of a pure spirit, i.e. a child, would serve to appease that god,” says Carvalho. “Our job is not to condone, but to understand.”

Carvalho has her master’s degree in archaeology from the University of Bradford in England.

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