The Maya: Illuminated Offspring of the Makers

LESSON PLANS AND ACTIVITIES ON THE MAYA CIVILIZATION

And the Progenitors, Creators, and Makers said… “The time has come for dawn, for the work to be completed, for those who must give us sustenance and feed us to appear, illuminated offspring, civilized vassals; let man appear, humanity, on the face of the earth.”

—Popol Vuh

Readings

  • The Basics of Ancient Maya Civilization – Who were the Maya?  Where did they live and when?
  • The Ancient Maya in Time and Space – How did the Maya interact with their environment?  How did the Maya conceive of themselves and the universe around them?  In European influenced societies, geography, ecology, time, and spirituality are all relatively distinct spheres – not so for the ancient Maya, whose since of time, space, and religion were closely linked.
  • Ancient Maya Society – How was the ancient Maya society structured?  How did they govern and feed themselves?
  • The Maya City – The most durable testament to the grandeur of the ancient Maya are their grand construction projects.  How were these cities made, and what makes them so awe-inspiring?
  • The Written Language of the Maya – Language shapes thoughts, knowledge, and feelings as well as human imagination, so it permeates all aspects of culture – the complexity of the Mayan language is key for understanding the richness of this people.
  • A Guided Tour of Maya Mexico, 2017 – Explore the ruins of Ek’ Balam, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza, scramble through streets of colonial Merida, and sample the cuisine and culture of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.  Supplementary photos and information on the Yucatan, past and present.

Documentary Shorts

  • The Maya: Collapse at Ek’ Balam – Take a tour of the ruins of the Maya city of Ek’ Balam, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.  This haunting marvel begs the question: what led to the collapse and dramatic restructuring of this ancient civilization?
  • Uxmal: Thrice-Built City of the Maya – Take a tour of the ruins of Uxmal, one of the largest and best preserved cities of the Maya.  Located in Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula, the ruins of Uxmal are comprised of the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery Quadrangle, the ballcourt, the Governor’s Palace, and the Great Pyramid.  Learn about the history and function of each of these impressive structures, as well as what they can tell us about the Maya world and culture.

Activities

  1. Use this dictionary to write a short poem in the Maya script, using at least a dozen glyphs.  Does composing in Mayan effect the experience of writing and reading?
  2. The Popol Vuh is one of the few remaining Maya stories dating to before the Spanish conquest.  It was originally preserved through oral tradition throughout the Maya world until approximately 1550 when it was written down.  The Popol Vuh includes the Mayan creation myth, beginning with the exploits of the Hero Twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué.  Read some of an English translation of the Popol Vuh, then choose a scene to reenact in a 3-5 minute skit or video in front of your class.
  3. Write an essay that compares and contrasts the 16th century Spanish conquistadors and the 21st century Taliban.
  4. Research the Caste War of Yucatán, which occurred in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the nineteenth century.  Take inspiration from the form and style of the Dresden Codex to tell the story of this late period Maya resistance.
  5. Choose any section from this unit and develop a lesson – in the form of a presentation, a storybook, or a worksheet – that teaches younger students about the Maya.  Make sure the material is age appropriate in content and approach, and create some simple questions to check your audience’s understanding.

Further Reading

The Maya (People and Places) by Michael Coe.

Ancient Maya by Barbara Somervill.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.


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