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How to make a Mayan pyramid

Updated February 21, 2017

Imagine what it must have been like building pyramids without cranes and pulleys, but the Mayans managed the task with such skill that their landmarks survived time and weather for centuries. It helped that engineers could tap nearby limestone quarries from which workers manually chipped away stone, then carted it to construction sites where it was shaped and hardened by the sun. Happily, you won't need a local quarry to make a pyramid worthy of merit if you use this article as your guide. Start by imagining a square, nine-tiered wedding cake.

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  1. Employ your math skills to figure out how big your Mayan pyramid model will be when it's done. Assuming a 60-cm (24-inch) square model, cut one 60 by 60-cm (24 by 24-inch) piece of polystyrene foam to make the base. Section off a 55 by 55-cm (22 by 22-inch) second square and continue decreasing the size of your foam squares by 5 cm (2 inches) each until you wind up with nine pieces.

  2. Using a photo or blueprint of a Mayan pyramid as reference, assemble the nine foam layers. Center and glue the tiers into place to create the structure. Insert a 75-cm (30-inch) metal rod down pyramid's the exact centre. Cut one 13-cm (5-inch) square to shape the temple structure that sits atop the pyramid. Glue it to centre of the 20 by 20-cm (8 by 8-inch) ninth pyramid tier.

  3. Prepare a recipe of papier mache paste per directions on the box---or make your own paste by mixing flour and water. Stir paste until thick. Rip newspaper into strips and quickly dip each one into the paste bath before covering the exterior of the foam model with layers of strips.

  4. Allow your Mayan pyramid to dry thoroughly before adding the final architectural elements: ramp-like steps leading from the pyramid base to the temple atop the model. Cut cardboard strips matching the length of the pyramid sides (your measurement should be in the neighbourhood of 70 cm (28 inches) if you constructed your model of 8-cm (3-inch) thick foam blocks). Create four sets of stairs by covering 15-cm (6-inch) wide cardboard strips with newspaper and paste and set them side to dry.

  5. Mix enough sand into your craft paint to thicken it. Paint the four stairway ramps and the Mayan pyramid with the sandy paint. Opt for several colours so the sandy texture and mottled colour mix gives your ruins an authentic, weathered appearance. Dry the model thoroughly. Use a small brush and black paint to add doors and trim on the temple. Stripe the ramps so they look like stairs. Glue stairways into place once the paint has dried.

  6. Spray the model with glue and shower it with glitter or use a can of glitter glue to cover the pyramid. According to National Geographic magazine, Mayan architects used mica chips so their structures sparkled in the sun, so if you want your model to look magnificent, don't skip this step.

  7. Tip

    As an alternative to mixing the sand into the selected paint colours, experiment by adding the sand to the papier mache mix instead.

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Things You'll Need

  • Picture of Mayan pyramid
  • 3-inch thick polystyrene foam sheets
  • Cutting implement
  • Papier mache paste
  • Newspaper
  • Craft glue
  • Craft paint (taupe, grey, light brown)
  • Brushes
  • Sand
  • Glitter or glitter spray
  • Metal rod

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.

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