Mystery Files: Education Worksheet

Video highlights from Mystery Files

School Level: Junior Secondary, Senior Secondary

SCHOOL LEVEL          
Junior Secondary
Senior Secondary

Bring history to life and inspire a keen interest in some of the biggest historical names, including Alexander The Great, Isaac Newton, Sitting Bull, Pope Joan, Lawrence Of Arabia, Jesus, Marco Polo, Hitler and Captain Kidd. Working from ancient times, through the Middle Ages and on to the twentieth century, this fascinating 13-part series dramatically recreates bygone times and challenges historical beliefs about some of our globally revered, iconic heroes. Mystery Files II also showcases the important detective work undertaken by historians, librarians and museum curators as they examine manuscripts and artefacts to tease out facts from fantasy.


History is littered with names of men and women – great and small, heroes and villains. It is imperative that students understand and appreciate the ways in which these people and their actions, combined with the forces at play during their lives, have helped to shape our world.

As time passes, attitudes and opinions change, technology advances and new discoveries are made. In this way, history can literally be rewritten. While tangible remains of the past – such as manuscripts, documents, diaries, letters and artefacts – provide concrete evidence of events, much of history is still open to speculation and interpretation.

Mystery Files opens with one of history’s greatest unsolved riddles: what happened to Alexander the Great’s tomb? The world-famous military genius, who created one of our planet’s largest empires, received the same honour in death as he did in life. His enshrined body drew thousands of pilgrims, including the most powerful emperors, to pay homage. Then suddenly all trace of the burial site disappeared. Why?

How was it that thirteenth century explorer, Marco Polo, could travel from Venice to China and return with silk and rhubarb, but no record of chopsticks, foot-binding or the Great Wall? And why is there no corroboration of his travels in the meticulously kept records of the Chinese gazetteers? Did Marco Polo actually exist? And if not, how did the fabulous legend of his travels originate?

Isaac Newton, father of modern science and unabashed workaholic, is famed for unlocking gravity’s secrets. But he also spent a large part of his life furtively studying the ancient art of alchemy and codes in the Bible. Then in 1727, mere weeks before his death, he started burning boxfuls of manuscripts. What was he trying to hide? What did he fear?

The success of this series is not only due to its bringing bygone days back to life in dramatic re-creations, but in its practical demonstrations of the process of historical inquiry. The historians, librarians and curators involved in each of the episodes provide a rare insight into their professions, and leave viewers wondering how much more remains to be discovered about the past.


Junior Secondary Curriculum
The Australian history curriculum aims to develop students':
•    understanding and use of historical concepts, including evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, significance, empathy, perspectives and contestability
•    capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in the analysis and use of sources, communication and explanation.
Australian History K-10 Curriculum 2010: Aims

Senior Secondary Curriculum
The Ancient History curriculum aims to develop students':
•    capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in independent research, interpretation using sources and communicating evidence-based arguments
•    knowledge and understanding of the past, as well as an appreciation of the origins and influence of ideas, beliefs and values
Australian Ancient History Curriculum 2010: Aims
Australian Modern History Curriculum 2010: Aims


Junior Secondary

In undertaking these tasks, students of History will:
•    Identify the origin, purpose and context of historical sources
•    Draw conclusions about the reliability and usefulness of sources
•    Identify and analyse the different actions, motives, values and attitudes of people from the past
•    Sequence events chronologically to demonstrate the relationship between events in different periods and places
Australian History K-10 Curriculum 2010 Page 27

Senior Secondary

In undertaking these tasks, students of Science will:
•    Identify the origin, purpose and context of historical sources.
•    Evaluate the reliability and usefulness of sources.
•    Account for and critically evaluate different perspectives and historical interpretations.
•    Identify links between events and changes across periods of time.
Australian Ancient History Curriculum 2010: Pages 6, 7
Australian Modern History Curriculum 2010: Pages7, 8


Junior Secondary

Task 1

Download a map of the world from
Save the map to your files, or print it and paste it into your workbook.
Mark the following on your map, naming the cities or towns involved:
•    The place where Alexander the Great’s tomb was originally located
•    The place where Marco Polo started his journey to China
•    The place in China where Marco Polo is said to have spent three years
•    The route Marco Polo took to get from the start to the finish of his outward journey
•    The place where Isaac Newton discovered the secrets of gravity

Task 2
•    Draw a timeline from 300 BCE to 1750.
•    On your timeline, mark the birth and death of Alexander the Great, the rise of Christianity in Egypt, the birth and death of Marco Polo, the birth and death of Isaac Newton.
•    Under each man’s name, write down which country he came from.
•    Write one discovery that was made while each of these famous men was alive, that is still important to us today.

Task 3
In 150 words, explain what made Alexander the Great such an important historical figure. In your answer, name at least two dates and two places.

Task 4
Write down three statements about Marco Polo that we know to be true. Explain what evidence there is to prove these statements are facts, and where you can find the evidence.

Task 5
Isaac Newton has been described as the ‘father of modern science’. Write down four of his discoveries or inventions that support this statement. Now write down three reasons Professor Michael Fitzgerald gave for his claim that Newton had Asperger’s Syndrome. Finally, write one sentence that explains whether or not you think Fitzgerald’s claim is relevant to your impression of Newton’s contribution to human knowledge.

Senior Secondary

Task 1
Mystery Files makes new claims about Alexander the Great, Marco Polo and Isaac Newton.
•    Choose one claim for each man and identify the source or evidence for each of the claims you have chosen.
•    Evaluate the strength or weakness of the claims according to the supporting evidence.
•    Explain why you agree or disagree with each of the claims.

Task 2
In 200 words, explain how Christianity took hold in Egypt and how it changed the lives of everyday people at that time.

Task 3
•    Make a list of at least five facts that are known about Marco Polo and give evidence to support each one.
•    Make a list of five claims about Marco Polo that can be disproved and explain how.

Task 4
Describe how Newton’s discovery of the laws of gravity was made public.
Imagine you have made a new scientific discovery that equates with Newton’s laws of gravity and explain how you would publicise your findings. Identify two major differences between the process used then and now.

Task 5
Complete the following three tasks:
•    Choose a famous historical figure and write a paragraph to describe the actions that made him/ her famous.
•    Now write a paragraph to describe his/ her personality.
•    Finally explain how which of his/ her personality traits helped him/her achieve fame.

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