The Lost City

The Lost City was an Applied Technology Challenge in the 2010 Tournament of Minds (TOM) . It has been reproduced here by permission.

The Tournament of Minds is a national-level Australian non-profit organisation. School teams from primary through high school enrol through their teachers. The 2010 Lost City is here offered mainly as a demonstration of the Web quest mystery game format. There are more clues and elements on this blog page than would be needed to run a quest. The extra information is to give ample materials that one might choose from to create a similar custom game. As the Lost City has already been run any educator can now use the materials, which were either from the public domain or freely donated for educational purposes. Thus the following format does not need to be adhered to strictly as it is given for demonstration purposes. Adapt it as it pleases.

The Challenge

The TOM Challenge required students to follow 4 clue sets released in decreasing order of difficulty over a period of weeks. Points were awarded for early identification of the location of the Lost City. An HTML or .PDF map sheet with questionnaire was available for HTML post by email. After identifying the Lost City the teams were required to bring the city ‘back to life’ in a 5-10 minute performance which could be in the form of a diorama, play, reenactment, or combination of these recorded as a digital movie.

The teacher commonly read out the introduction and clues below in class:


Quite commonly we read that archaeologists discover a ‘lost city’. Sometimes these are famous from historical records, such as Troy, but the exact location and ruins had been lost. Others were abandoned so long ago that the newer inhabitants of the land never even knew of their existence. The explorers usually had to convince the people back home of the importance of the find and the need for further trips. Often they brought back specimens, treasures, and even people to show off the city. This challenge will be presented in a series of clues as though from the log book of an explorer/treasure hunter who was pursuing a legend. You then present the city to today’s world.

B.               CHALLENGE

Your team must locate the particular lost city on the basis of clues given out then recreate it for an audience of today, bringing it to life again through your presentation. Each clue will narrow it down and by the 3rd to 4th clue should be obvious. Those who narrow the field quickest through a process of elimination are rewarded by having more time to prepare their presentation. Your presentation will be assessed on the logic you followed in pursuing the clues, how quickly you found it, and how well you can bring it to life. The clues will cover Astronomy, Mathematics, History, Environmental Science, Culture and Geography.


During your presentation your team must:

  • Nominate what you believe to be the lost city. Specify its longitude and latitude
  • Stage a play, a talk, or a documentary film of at least 5 minutes duration, 1-2 minutes showing your discovery logic and the rest being a dramatisation of how the lost city may have looked and how its people lived.
  • Appearance of the land and its animals are relevant.
  • Try and bring the lost people to life through re-enactments of their dress and customs.
  • Devise techniques used to create your documentary including using sound effects, music, dialogue, character and setting.
  • Use a minimum of three different items of present day technology.

Using technology your team is to create at least five minutes of your solution as a documentary. The rest of the solution time will be interactive, using your team of seven students.

 D. Scoring

You will be awarded points according to the following criteria.



Accuracy of identification of the Lost City

0 to 10 points


Originality of the explanation of how and at what stage team came to identify the Lost City

0 to 50 points


Creativity Proficient use of movie making techniques in bringing to life the people and environs of the Lost City

0 to 40 points


Effective logical use of the use of visual and sound effects, music, dialogue, character and setting in your documentary

0 to 30 points


Use of at least three different items of present day technology

0 to 30 points

Maximum possible

160 points


Lost City Clues


This Lost City does not have a name. It is known only by the impressive ancient ruins and the modern city on its site. Although archaeologists have not given this Lost City a name, the current day use of the site suggests a literal description as “UW”.

The UW site is unique in a number of ways.  Archaeology does not tell us a great deal about its people.  The impressive ruins contain very few artefacts.  The people did not leave jewels or gifts in their burials. The habitations seem to have been small temporary sites with little day-to-day refuse. The large structures themselves were not constructed as a part of a permanent city. The structures are located away from the identified habitation sites.

lost city aerial photo

The site had long returned to nature. Click here for a description of the site at the time of seafaring discovery:

lost city gamification audio clue description

Our seafaring explorer has offered the following clues:

A bitterly cold night in October gives a foretaste of the winter to come.  From these parts the star known to the Arabs as “river’s end” and to the Chinese as “the First Star of the Crooked Running Water” cannot be seen at all. Even the lonely Royal Star of the Persians here rises only about 15 degrees above the horizon.  It is well known that Latitude may be calculated by means of the formula:  L=90-A-D,  in other words  Latitude = 90 – Highest Angle above Horizon – Declination.

This star was known to the Arabs as “The Mouth of the Whale” but we do not know if the people of UW had a name for this star.

star clue

It is doubtful that they had much if any knowledge of the whale.  Indeed, the largest fish of which they speak seem to be sturgeon, pike, gar, carp, and catfish.  The largest animals in these parts are elk and bears. The badger is respected for ferocity but is rarely seen during the day.

lost city gamification animal clue

Several waves of immigration are apparent at the site:

  • The builders of our lost city we refer to as the first wave as we have no evidence of any specific group before that era.
  • The second wave refers to those inhabitants of the land encountered at the time of European seafaring exploration (referred to as ‘indigenous’ or formerly as ‘natives’).
  • The third wave refers to the current inhabitants, who comprise a mix of second wave and all later inhabitants.

lost city gamification people

It is not known how much heredity there might be between first and second wave peoples as the ruins had been long abandoned and the second wave have passed down legends of conquest which suggests that the direct link between first and second wave may have been broken by invasion or other factors.

When the lost city of UW was first discovered it was thought that the second wave inhabitants would have been technologically incapable of having built such monuments. This sparked discussion for some years of a ‘lost race’. However, first and second wave peoples are now regarded by historians to be of the same overall culture and race, whether individual descendants or not.


Click here to submit answers to Clue #1

[Note - if you want to customize and use this answer form you will need to edit the 'post' command in a text/html editor by changing the email address set at "mailto:myemail@whatever.wherever" to your own email and test it with different email configurations.]


Some samples of organic matter have been found in the ruins deep enough to suggest they are not from the second wave population but from the first wave builders of the large structures of the lost city of UW.

Woodworking tools found include copper wedges/celts, cordmarked pottery ceramics, clay elbow pipes, projectile points, chipped stone tools, ground stone tools, bone beamers, bone and copper awls for hideworking.  Fishing tackle is evident as barbed bone harpoon points and notched stone netsinkers. There is some evidence for cultivated plants, particularly corn.  Hunting and weapons include arrows, dart points, and points for atlatl sling spears.  Commonly these were made with chert, which is similar to flint.

Carbon-dating has been done for organic samples and showed 84% of carbon 14 in the ancient Lost City specimens compared to living specimens.

Trees include pine, oak, hickory, walnut, sugar tree, maple, ash, and box. Animal species that are portrayed by the ruins appear to be panther, bear, bird, deer, buffalo, turtle, canine, and beaver.

There is an abundance of fresh water. The greatest of the nearby lakes were discovered by the French in the early 1600s. There are five of these. However, references to the “Four Lakes” in exploration documents refer to a much smaller set of lakes connected by a river on the site of the present day city.

Click here to read a famous poem portraying the arrival of seafaring explorers to this general area of the world > audio clue poem

One such early explorer in this area of the world was an enterprising employee of a fur company known as the “Hundred Associates”. The indigenous people he met said their ancestors had come from the shores of a far-distant salty sea in the West, whom they referred to as “the people of the stinking water.” The fur trader donned a colourful Chinese robe and fired pistols.  He stated he had come in peace.  He so impressed the people he was given a royal feast.

Those explorers doing careful documentation at first thought the ruins to be typical military forts: Click here to read their description > lost city gamification audio clue structure

lost city gamification aerial

The initial interpretation was that these were military ruins, common to many ancient fortified cities:

“the remains of ancient works, constructed probably for military purposes, were found more numerous and of greater extent, on the highlands, … no ditch was observed on either side of the parapet. In many places the lines were composed of parapets and mounds in conjunction, the mounds being arranged along the parapets at their usual distance from each other, and operating as flank defences to the lines.”

Subsequent diggings showed that there was no military significance and that the structures were probably religious in nature. Many of the mounds contain burials. Most frequently there is a single grave. While this grave usually contains only one individual, there are a number of graves containing two or more individuals. In some instances there is a mass burial of 35-45 individuals. Charred human bones and beds of ash are occasionally found suggesting cremation.

lost city gamification mound

The culture and ceremonies are unknown. However, there are samples of songs written by modern authors that have somewhat captured the spirit of the place and may help in identifying the site by its modern day culture. Click here to listen to an MP3 file of the native song > nativesong

Click here to open a .pdf crossword of the Lost City>  lost_city_crossword

Click here to submit answers to Clue #2


This site is unique in the whole of archaeology. It is one of the few in the world that can be explored from a major university which was established on the site a few years after explorer discovery by third wave people.  An archaeologist can organise an expedition by merely taking the students for a hike around the campus environs!

Now the centre of a large state capital, the area is still picturesque. Human habitation was sparse at the time of discovery:  Click here to hear about the animals of the region >lost city gamification audio clue animals


Click here to submit answers to Clue #3

It is thought that the site area may well have been visited and inhabited by humans since the end of the last ice age, taking its history back thousands of years. There is little archaeological evidence of note, however, from people before the first wave builders of the structures on the site.
The UW university community reminds us that “what you see now isn’t what it looked like in the past. … There was plenty of room to set up camp. It is an eminently defendable position, and it was a good place to be in the event of a prairie fire.“
Settlement by the third wave was peaceful. The descendents of the second wave people currently comprise a nation within a nation describing themselves as “The People of the Big Voice”. Their nation has a web site and Web 2.0 resources such as Facebook and Twitter. They derive some of their income from running gambling casinos.

The modern city on the site proudly promotes its ancient cultures and tolerance. In the 19th century the city became known for being active in the fight against slavery and in the 20th century in the fight against war itself. It is a state capitol. It is well known as a place of liberal reform. In recent times it has been reported as having the highest percentage of individuals holding Ph.D.s and the lowest unemployment in the nation.
It also has a lighter side. Its nicknames include “Mad City” and “Madtown. Its most famous contemporary musical group is officially known as “Garbage”.
It is also known as a “city of 4 lakes”.
Current third wave inhabitants have a strong sporting tradition. Their city professional team is the Wolfpack and they cheer their state pack against Bears, Lions and Vikings.
The UW community currently on the site proudly proclaims that “You can find more distinct archaeological sites here than on any other university campus in the country—maybe even in the world! The entire campus landscape can serve as a classroom for learning about the peoples and creatures who have lived here in the past.”
There are at least 22 archaeological sites on the UW campus. Of these, our Lost City of UW is taken as the peninsula area. The Point was once part of a vast oak savanna. There is a mound at the narrows as the entrance to the peninsula and a further five mounds on the peninsula.

Click here to submit answers to Clue #4

Optional Tournament Day Exercize: re-enact the game described below

From the artefacts found at nearby sites it is apparent that sport was popular among first and second wave inhabitants. A popular game was described as:
“… a beautiful athletic exercise which they seem to be almost unceasingly practising whilst the weather is fair, and they have nothing else of moment to demand their attention.

native game

This game is decidedly their favorite amusement, and is played near to the village on a pavement of clay which has been used for that purpose until it has become as smooth and hard as a floor. For this game two champions form their respective parties, by choosing alternately the most famous players, until their requisite numbers are made up. Their bettings are then made, and their stakes are held by some of the chiefs, or others present. The play commences with two (one from each party), who start off upon a trot abreast of each other, and one of them rolls, in advance of them on the pavement, a little ring of two or three inches in diameter, cut out of a stone; and each one follows it up with his tchung-kee (a stick six feet in length, with little bits of leather projecting from its sides, of an inch or more in length), which he throws before him as he runs, sliding it along upon the ground after the ring, endeavoring to place it in such a position when it stops, that the ring may fall upon it, and receive one of the little projections of leather through it, which counts for game one, or two, or four, according to the position of the leather on which the ring is lodged.

objects from antiquities of wis
The last winner always has the rolling of the ring, and both start the tchung-kee together; if either fails to receive the ring, or to lie in a certain position, it is a forfeiture of the amount of the number he was nearest to, and he loses his throw; when another steps into his place. The game is a difficult one to describe so as to give an exact idea of it, unless one can see it played; it is a game of great beauty and fine bodily exercise, and these people become excessively fond of it.”

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