Lintel from a Maya building

Teaching ideas

Look at the image of the lintel with your students. Ask them for some ideas about what the lintel might be showing and why they think that. Draw their attention in particular to who they think is the most powerful or important figure. Then provide them with a list of details to identify, perhaps on cards to match to a hard copy of the image:

spear, feather headdress, glyphs, kneeling captive, nose plug, shell tunic, wrist cuffs, sandals, broken parasol, decorated boots, mighty king.

Use the two vase scenes in For the classroom to provide an opportunity to compare and contrast examples of Maya art showing captives and rulers.

Discuss the significance of sacrifice and bloodletting in Maya religious belief. Use the images of lintels in For the classroom to show a bloodletting ritual and its consequences. The students could then explore more lintels on the British Museum’s Ancient Civilizations website listed in For the classroom.

Investigate Maya religious beliefs focusing on sacrifice and bloodletting. The following questions can be used to lead the discussion:

Why was it blood that the Maya offered to the gods? Who performed the rituals? What gods did the Maya worship? What did they expect from their gods? In what other ways could Mayans please their gods? How did this affect the way the Maya lived?

Use the photos of the archaeologists making a plaster cast and of the excavation at Palenque in A bigger picture to discuss archaeological excavation. Discuss what it might have been like to excavate the site during Maudslay’s time. Provide the students with extracts from the Field Notes section of the excavation at Waka’ in For the classroom to show an example of a modern excavation. Set the students a project to write their own section of Field Notes, either about a site Maudslay excavated or a modern site in your area. You could explore whether there is a local excavation that you could visit to see modern archaeological techniques in practice.

Here are two more general enquiries.

How do rulers show their power?

Show the students other images of rulers displaying their power and status, you could choose from cultures or periods that you have already studied or will be studying in future topics, or look at modern examples. Discuss how that ruler is shown and what devices are used to indicate their status. Compare with the Maya image. Ask the students to design their own image of a ruler.

Should historical buildings be reconstructed?

Show the students Maudslay’s photograph of the Temple of Kukulcan in A bigger picture and discuss the deterioration of archaeological sites over time. Then show them the picture of the same Temple on the National Geographic website in For the classroom and ask for their impressions of the site now. What has happened? Use this to lead into a consideration of the reconstruction of archaeological sites. Use other examples, such as the video report on Tutankhamen’s tomb in For the classroom. You could divide students into groups to take sides in a debate on reconstruction.

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Lintel from a Maya building