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World Mythology: Mythic Archaeology Project Paper Guidelines and Rubric

LIT 229: Mythic Archaeology Project Paper Guidelines and Rubric


Far from being abstract ideas or stories, myths are responsible for our decisions and actions. The Mythic Archaeology Project is an opportunity for you to apply your analytical and interpretive skills to your own life. In this project, you will drill down through a decision in your life to uncover its mythological foundation.

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How do we do that? Well, consider the process used in archaeology. Archaeologists work in what are called “tells.” Tells are vertical exposures of the many horizontal layers of a city or encampment. Rather than explore one layer at a time, archaeologists dig down through many layers of a site to see a historical cross-section. Using the metaphor of the “tell,” we can examine how a myth has influenced your own life. Instead of exposing a cross-section of time, you will be seeing a cross-section of the function of myth from the deeper layers of culture to your own personal story. Here are the layers and tasks you will work through in your own process:

Layer Task

“GPS” Decision Points

Choose three moments in which you had to make a decision that altered the course of your life. The moments can also be smaller decisions, such as a book you chose to read, a film you chose to watch, or a relationship you chose to cultivate.

Examples: marriage, children, job, education, relationships, death


Describe the moments and the decision(s) you made in objective, not subjective, terms including relevant details.


  • “I applied for a job across the country that would require me to learn new skills in a new place. I had never before changed my environment so drastically . . .”
  • “I decided to go back to school to complete my degree.”
  • “I bought Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance because I have been intending to read it for years and decided now was the time . . .”

Beliefs and Assumptions

List the beliefs and/or assumptions that were in place when you made your decision. Again, you should be as objective as possible here, foregoing emotional descriptions for more concrete rationales. Imagine you are giving testimony in a lawsuit, and provide only the facts as you see them. Examples:

  • “I believed that my job was not fulfilling to me any longer and that if I continued in it, I would become even unhappier. Moving across the country was a challenge that I felt I had to face . . .”
  • “I believed that an education would help me make more money and perhaps make me a better person . . .”
  • “I assumed that the book would change my life . . .”

Origin in Culture

As you can see, we are continuing to drill down into your decision, and this is your chance to describe the next layer. Connect the beliefs and assumptions you have listed with their cultural origin. The question here involves outside influences on your decision and the sources of those influences. Cultural sources might be things such as religion, academia, popular culture, or family. Cultural origin, in these examples, might then be a religious leader, an academic writer, a critic, or a parent, respectively. Examples:

  •  “I heard a sermon about changing one thing in our lives this year that would both challenge and inspire us . . .” (the sermon-giver as the cultural origin)
  • “I read several articles and websites, especially the one at, that said that an educational credential would improve my professional standing and in turn my self-esteem . . .” (articles and websites as cultural origin)
  • “People who read and reviewed the book indicated that it was one of those books that you could not read and be the same afterwards . . .” (book reviewers as cultural origin)

Origin in Myth

Now we move to the next layer and ask what texts or stories contain those outside influences from the previous layer. Cite relevant passages from a myth, mythology, story, or text that depict those beliefs and assumptions, explain how the text applies to your decision, and reflect upon this exercise. You were likely not aware of these texts or perhaps even the outside influences; this exercise is about making you aware. This could be the most difficult stage of the exercise. Examples:

  • “Genesis 4:12: When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth. Work, then, is a product of a curse and produces a sense of alienation. This sense of alienation leads understandably to wandering, that is, to seeking better and more fulfilling work . . .”
  • “This is the Horatio Alger story from the nineteenth century. Horatio Alger wrote a number of rags-to-riches stories that have served as a mythology for the American Dream. We could even go back further to the myth of the Puritans who drew upon theologian John Calvin and other Protestant thinkers to understand work as an element of salvation. This idea eventually developed into the Protestant work ethic . . .”
  • “The mythological content of Zen is quite rich. In addition to calling up one of Plato’s interlocutors as an alternate name for the narrator, the book reflects the notion of the solitary hero traveling to reach some kind of home, only in Zen the landscapes are all philosophical, and the hero, unlike Odysseus, never does find home. I now see I was drawn to the book for those very reasons: I feel lost and want to find my way home, but all my travels are in my mind . . .”


You will strategically organize your paper to put together a highly effective response to your tasks and present:

A Compelling Introduction

This introduction will identify your key “tell” moments.

An Organized Body

Follow through on each of your key “tells” in detail. Start with the first “GPS” moment and provide the description, your beliefs, and assumptions relative to this moment, then ground your moment in the origins of the myth and culture. After covering your first moment, transition to your second key GPS moment until you have covered all three “tells” within the body of your paper. The body of your paper should flow logically, with highly effective examples reflecting your own insights. Avoid summarizing, since it can lead to superficiality. The examples and facts from the myths, texts, or passages will support your statements, and the significance of each insight will be fully explained. The body will also include at least one example for a myth, text, or passage to support each GPS moment and insight in the form of highly relevant quotations and concise paraphrasing.

A Powerful Conclusion

Finally, write a conclusion where you reflect upon all three of your tells and their mythological foundation. Articulate what you learned about the specific tells, the general function of mythology in your decisions, and from the exercise itself.

Review the grading rubric below to identify all aspects of the proficiencies that differentiate a distinguished paper.

For more information about viewing feedback for TurnItIn assignments, please review this tutorial.

Your paper should be a minimum of 4–5 pages (not including cover page or resources) and properly cited with a minimum of three resources and follow these formatting rules: double spacing, 12-point Times New Roman font, one-inch margins, and citations in MLA format.


Critical Elements



Needs Improvement

Not Evident


GPS Decision Points

Identifies all three decision points (GPS), defining key terms in introduction; smoothly transitions into the body of paper setting the stage for your mythic journey


Identifies all three decision points (GPS), defining most key terms in introduction with effective transition into body of paper to set the stage for your mythic journey


Identifies all three decision points (GPS) in introduction, but requires additional clarification or definition of key terms throughout paper to illustrate importance in your life and set the stage for your mythic journey


Does not identify all three decision points (GPS) and/or their importance in your life to set the stage for your mythic journey



Origin in Culture

(Beliefs and Assumptions)

Effectively explains and interprets all three decision points, fully grounding all examples with clear explanation of their related origin in culture


Explains and interprets all three decision points using examples and facts that ground all three decision points in their related origin in culture


Offers interpretation of the examples and facts but with gaps that require additional explanation to fully ground all three “tells” in their related origin in culture


Body of paper requires additional organization and/or further examples and details to meaningfully ground most of the “tells” in their related origin in culture



Origin in Myth

(Beliefs and Assumptions)

Effectively supports interpretation of decision points with clear explanation and detailed relevant examples of their related origin in myth


Supports interpretation of all three decisions points with explanation and relevant examples of their related origin in myth


Supports interpretation of all decision points with explanation and examples of their related origin in myth,

but with gaps that require additional explanation or more relevant examples of their related origin in myth


Requires additional or more effective examples and details to meaningfully support decision points related origin in myth





Body of paper flows logically with smooth transitions, effective body paragraphs and strong conclusion which support the decision points and their implication in your life


Body of paper flows logically with effective body paragraphs and clear conclusion that support the decision points and their implication in your life


Body of paper flows with introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion, but with gaps in transition that require additional organization to clearly present the decision points and their implication in your life


Body of paper requires additional organization and effective relevant content to clearly present the decisions points and their implication in your life




Almost no errors related to citation and grammar


Minor errors related to citation and grammar


Some errors related to citation and grammar


Major errors related to citation and grammar; does not include minimum required resources



Earned Total



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