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Scientists Discover Oldest Mayan Mural


  • Arts & Humanities
    --Art History
  • Social Studies
    --Current Events
    ----World History


Grades 2-up

News Content

Archaeologists have learned new things about the Mayans from an ancient mural.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, introduce students to the concept of the Mayan culture. Maya people thrived between 1000 B.C and the 1500s (A.D.). Help students identify on a world or Western Hemisphere map the location of the Mayan culture; the culture survived for centuries in the area that includes the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras and El Salvador, as well as southern Mexico (including the Yucatn peninsula).

News Words

Introduce the words that appear in the News Words box on the students' printable page. Ask them to use one of the words to complete each statement below:

  • The king's gleaming ____ sat high atop the hill. (palace)
  • We pasted all of the pictures on a large sheet of _____ paper. (mural)
  • Can you _____ how many people were in the stadium for the big game? (estimate)
  • The country of Guatemala is located in _____. (Central America)
  • The president is the leader of the U.S. _____. (government)

Read the News

Click for a printable version of this week's news story Scientists Discover Oldest Mayan Mural.

Reading the News

You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

* Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

* Students might first read the news story to themselves; then call on individual students to read the news aloud for the class.

* Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write a note in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

More Facts to Share

You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this week's news story.

  • The mural, which measures 3 feet x 30 feet, is featured in the January issue of National Geographic magazine.
  • The painting was discovered at the ancient Mayan city of San Bartolo, which is in northeastern Guatemala.
  • Archaeologists say the mural proves that art and writing were used more than 2,000 years ago to tell the story of creation of the world. Prior to this discovery, scientists thought such uses of painting and writing weren't firmly established in the Mayan culture until the seventh century A.D. (the 600s).
  • The first part of the mural shows the establishment of order to the world; the world propped up by trees with roots leading to the underworld and branches holding up the sky.
  • Another part of the mural depicts the crowning of a Mayan king, whose name appears in an ancient form of writing known as hieroglyphics.
  • Excavation of the mural was led by William Saturno, an archaeologist with the University of New Hampshire. Saturno discovered the mural by accident in 2001. He was tired, so he sought shade in a trench that was cut under an unexcavated pyramid. He was shocked to see a painting there. The complete excavation of the paining took four years.
  • In addition to the mural, scientists found the oldest known Mayan royal burial site, which serves as further proof that kings were a part of early Mayan culture.
  • Saturno and his team plan to continue excavating at San Bartolo for years to come. "This is a tip of the iceberg," he said.
  • It is often said that the Mayan culture disappeared in the 1500s when the Spanish conquistadors took over their lands. But descendents of the ancient Mayan people still live in the area and maintain many of the culture's traditions and beliefs. Mayan languages are still spoken there.
Comprehension Check

Check students' recall of detail by asking the questions below:

  • Where was the ancient Mayan mural discovered? (in Central America)
  • Why is the mural so special? (Accept reasoned responses. For example, it is the oldest Mayan mural ever found, it proves that the ancient Mayan civilization had a language and a government...)
  • How many years ago do scientists estimate the mural was painted? (2,000 years ago)

Think About the News
Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students' news page.

Follow-Up Activities

Geography. Provide students with an outline map that shows Mexico and Central America. (See Source 1, Source 2, Source 3.) Have them use library or Internet resources to locate and color the areas where the Mayan culture thrived. You might tell students that the area included the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras and El Salvador, as well as southern Mexico. (If you teach older students, you might provide this additional detail: the civilization thrived in the Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, Campeche, and Yucatn.)

Lanaguage. Students might have fun using the symbols (hieroglyphics) associated with the ancient Mayan language to write their names. You can supply them with a printout of those symbols from (scroll down the page to the section headed "The Decipherment of Maya Hieroglyphs"). Students will need to improvise a bit because there are not symbols for every letter of the modern-day English alphabet.

History. Explore with the students the Web site Mystery of the Maya, which was developed by the Canadian Museum of Civilization to accompany the IMAX movie of the same name.


Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News question on their news story page.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

National Standards

National Standards

FINE ARTS: Visual Arts
NA-VA.K-4.4 Understanding the Visual Arts In Relation to History and Cultures
GRADES 5 - 8
NA-VA.5-8.4 Understanding the Visual Arts In Relation to History and Cultures
GRADES 9 - 12
NA-VA.9-12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts In Relation to History and Cultures

NSS-G.K-12.1 The World in Spatial Terms
NSS-G.K-12.2 Places and Regions

GRADES 5 - 12
NSS-WH.5-12.3 Classical Traditions, Major Religions, and Giant Empires
NSS-WH.5-12.4 Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter
NSS-WH.5-12.5 Intensified Hemispheric Interactions, 1000-1500 CE

See recent news stories in Education World's News Story of the Week Archive.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
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