Teacher's Guide

The purpose of this guide is to give ideas for classroom activities. Background information and additional activities can be found in two books published by the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

To introduce students to the science of archaeology. What is archaeology?

How do archaeologists conduct their excavations?

Why is archaeology important?

  • Interview an archaeologist. If there is a museum or university in your neighbourhood with archaeologists on staff, have your students interview them.

  • Classification of artifacts. Select a variety of objects made from different materials. Have your students first classify them as organic or inorganic. Further break down the classification according to the materials used: wood, metal, plastic, stone, glass, paper, natural or synthetic fibre, leather, bone, and so on. Discuss which materials would last a long time and compare them with those that would deteriorate quickly. What conditions would best preserve objects? (dry or under water, where there is little oxygen present to break down materials). What conditions would cause rapid deterioration? (damp, hot, humid, exposed to air).
  • To gain an understanding of the geography of Mesoamerica and its influence on the Maya way of life. Where is the Maya homeland?

    What is the climate like in Mesoamerica?

    How did the land support the people?

  • Consult the weather section in your local newspaper and prepare a chart comparing temperatures in the cities of Mesoamerica with those in your own area.

  • Research the importance of the rain forest in maintaining the world's oxygen supply and on the valuable plants that are used for medicines.

  • Compare farming techniques in the region closest to your school with those of the Maya. Make a chart to indicate when planting takes place, what the soil is like, how the crops are nourished, and when they are harvested.
  • To put the Maya culture into historical perspective. How does the timeline of the Maya civilization compare to other civilizations?

    What characteristics of the Maya culture make it a great civilization?

    What were some of the reasons for the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization?

  • If you were asked to choose three objects to be buried in the earth to let future generations know about the Classic Maya civilization, what would you choose?
  • To learn about the role of kings, royal symbols, clothing and personal adornment. What role do royalty play in the modern world?

    What role did the Maya kings play: a) in looking after the affairs of state; b) as spiritual leaders?

    What is a 'symbol'? Ask your students to identify symbols they know and use in their daily lives (examples: their school emblem, their country's flag, the dollar sign for money, road signs, and so on).

  • Ask your students to identify various reasons why people wear clothing (to protect our bodies from the elements or injury; to identify the social group we belong to; to display our wealth and prestige; to identify important stages in our lives e.g. wedding), and to find pictures in magazines that represent these different categories of clothing.

  • Have your students consider different ways people change their appearance and why they do this. A comparison could be made between cultures. Ask your students whether there is anything they would want to change about their facial features.

  • Using light cardboard or coloured paper, have your students make a headband. Use pictures of Maya nobles for inspiration. Decorate the headband by adding feathers, shells, seeds, cornhusks, imitation jaguar skins, and beads.
  • To learn about the way of life of the common Maya. Help your students visualize a Maya village scene. What were the houses of the common people like?
  • Have your students make a model of a thatched-roof hut using the pictures in the Mystery of the Maya Web pages. Possible materials include plasticine for the foundation, popsicle sticks for the walls and roof supports, and straw for the thatched roof.

  • Ask your students to research recipes for dishes modern Maya people make from corn, beans and squash. Try these recipes out in class or at home.
  • To introduce your students to aspects of Maya sciences. Ask your students to guess why the Maya used units of 20.

    The Maya were one of the first civilizations to use zero in their calculations, symbolized by an oval shell. Do you think this is an appropriate symbol for zero? If you had to invent a symbol for zero different from the one you use now, what would it be?

    What type of writing did did the Maya use? Who knew how to write, and what did they write on?

    Why did Maya kings use writing as a propaganda tool? Can you think of contemporary examples of people who use writing as propaganda?

  • Teach your students the principles of Maya mathematics, beginning with writing the numbers 1 to 19. You could use beans to represent 1, popsicle sticks or toothpicks to represent five, and shells or pebbles to represent zero.

  • Compare our modern calendar to the Maya 365-day Vague Year calendar. Ask your students to figure out when the Maya New Year began by transposing the Maya 365-day calendar onto our calendar. (Clue: January 1 in our calendar corresponds to the 8th day of the 14th month in the Maya 365-day calendar).