How to make an aztec calendar project with a paper plate

Updated November 21, 2016

The Aztecs were a civilisation that lived in ancient South America. They designed step pyramids similar to those built by the Egyptians and worshipped gods that possessed characteristics of predators native to the land they inhabited. The Aztecs also tracked the stars, linking their movements to the changing of the seasons. From this they created a very accurate calendar. It consisted of three stone wheels of descending size housed one inside the other. The outer ring tracked days, the inner ring tracked 13-day weeks and the centre ring tracked solar years. Each ring was carved with different animal glyphs and pointer arrows. Help your students better understand how the Aztecs kept time by having them create their own calendars with paper plates.

Give each student three paper plates and instruct them to paint all three terra-cotta orange. This gives the illusion that the calendars are made of stone. If you can find larger-than-standard paper plates, these will give the students more room to paint and draw later.

Instruct each student to cut two inches from the perimeter of one plate and three from another, leaving the third plate intact. Have them use mathematical compasses to draw guideline circles on their plates.

Tell your students to cut five narrow triangles from the scrap edges of their paper plates. Let them paint these arrows any colour they like and set them aside to dry.

Print reference pictures from in References. There is a detailed picture of an Aztec calendar on this site. Blow up a huge picture for all the students to look at, or distribute smaller pictures to each student.

Tell your students to draw the glyphs on the outer ring on the edge of the intact plate, the glyphs from the inner ring on the edge of the medium plate and the centre ring on the smallest plate. Remind them that their pictures don't have to be perfect; outlines are fine. Let them paint their glyphs.

Have your students glue four of their triangles to the medium-size plate so that they mimic the arrows on their reference picture. Have them do the same with the fifth arrow and the smallest plate. Let the glue dry.

Let your students centre the medium plate on the intact plate and the smallest plate on the medium plate. Have them secure the plates together by pushing metal brads through the centre. This way their calendars will turn and spin like the Aztec calendar.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper plates
  • Paint
  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Brass brads
  • Mathematical compass
  • Reference pictures
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