The Maya maize god

Teaching ideas

As this is a statue of a god, it would be natural to start by investigating Maya religion.

Look at the image of the statue with your students. What is their impression of the figure? Tell them who it is and look at the details again. Does knowing who it is affect how they react? Contrast this still, serene, statue with the same god in animated discussion and being reborn in the vase scene in For the classroom.

You could then lead into a discussion of other gods the Maya worshipped, looking at what aspect of life or nature each one was responsible for. Use the two urns in the forms of gods from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in For the classroom.

Divide the students into groups and ask each one to research a different Maya god or goddess. Ask them to present their findings in the form of a display for your classroom with a short piece of text to introduce the god and an image. The image could be one that they have found in a book or on the internet, or alternatively you could ask them to produce their own version. If you choose to do this, remind them that the Maya maize god statue has a corn headdress - how will they reflect an aspect of their god in their image?

You could also start to build a broader picture of Mesoamerican cultures.

Compare a few of the Maya gods to their Aztec counterparts. Use the similarities between Maya and Aztec gods to begin a discussion about other cultures in Mesoamerica. You could use the British Museum’s Ancient Civilizations website to help click the Globe to find the Aztecs. The activity exploring the Great Temple would lead on well from a discussion about religion. Then widen this out to other cultures in Mesoamerica through time. You could create a timeline of the civilisations of Mesoamerica; students can use the website to explore this area in For the classroom.

You can use the same website to look at the Aztec marketplace. Many of the items they traded were similar to the Maya. A map wall display showing trade could be produced from the evidence the students discover.

Here are three activities which could be used for cross-curricular work.

Use the images of Demeter, Chicomecoatl and Annapurna in A bigger picture to initiate a discussion about why harvests are so important across cultures. Do the students know of any harvest festivals or similar celebrations? Use the link to the Green Corn harvest festival dance to illustrate this discussion.

Use the maize god and discussions of harvests as a link into a gardening project. The students could research the growing cycle of different plants, think about what conditions the plants need to grow, when they should be planted, what containers they need and so on. If you have space you could even grow some sweetcorn. As well as planting the plants you could produce a display about the cycle of the seasons related to the plants you choose to grow. Use this BBC link about growing sweetcorn.

Display the images of the yam harvest altar and the harvest jug in A bigger picture to discuss how they use imagery to reflect harvests. One is an obvious link with foliage, the other more subtle through the cycle of life. Ask the students to create an object that showcases a harvest festival either on paper or using clay as in these two examples.

Next section: For the classroom

The Maya maize god