The Mayan and Aztec cultures are an important part of North American history. These cultures, which existed throughout Mexico, tended to have art that centred around bright colours and the sun. Ranging from tiny Aztec sun stones to giant Mayan step pyramids, these cultures had a rich artistic history. Art is a natural choice for adding to a lesson plan on either or both of these cultures.
Aztec Mosaic Mask
Students can recreate examples of traditional Aztec masks decorated with turquoise and coral clay tiles. Form a mask from black or dark grey clay using an upside-down paper bowl as a mould. Use additional clay to build up eye ridges and mouths on the masks. Once the mask is moulded, students can roll out turquoise and coral clay and cut it into tiles to decorate the mask. Glue the tiles to the mask while the clay is still pliable, and then allow to dry.
Aztec Sun Stone
Students can also use clay to make an Aztec sun stone. Aztecs made sun stones to celebrate the sun, which was their principal deity. Give students a lump of clay and have them flatten it into a disk, then use a plastic knife to cut the edges into triangles, representing the sun's rays. Use the extra clay to make facial features on the sun. When dry, have students paint their sun stones with brilliant colours.
Mayan Step Pyramid
Egypt isn't the only place famous for pyramids; the Mayans built spectacular stepped pyramids in Mexico. Students can create an example of a stepped pyramid using cardboard refrigerator soda boxes and other cardboard boxes. This is a large project that can take a place of honour in the classroom, library or school lobby. Have students study the shape of a real step pyramid and use cardboard boxes to build something similar. Paint the boxes to resemble real stones.
Pass out a copy of the Mayan alphabet and have students use the symbols to spell their names. Because the Mayan alphabet isn't the same as the standard English alphabet, students will have to think about what sounds would represent the sounds in their name. Have students make posters of their Mayan names to take home or plaques for their desks.
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