Comparing Cultures

Lesson Plan


Students will examine the artistic characteristics of the Warrior Figure, locate Costa Rica on a world map, and identify defining features of the country. Then they will compare and contrast the Warrior Figure and the civilization/culture in which it was made with another art object from the Creativity Resource website and its associated civilization/culture.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Social Studies


Students will be able to:

  • examine the artistic characteristics of the Warrior Figure;
  • locate Costa Rica on a map of the world and identify some defining features of the country; and
  • compare and contrast the Warrior Figure and the culture/civilization in which it was created with another art object from the Creativity Resource website and its associated culture/civilization.


  1. Warm-up: Display or pass out copies of the Warrior Figure and invite students to look carefully and share what they observe. What colors do they see? What materials were used to make the Warrior Figure? What patterns appear on the Warrior Figure? What is the figure holding? How would they describe the figure’s expression? What adjectives would they use to describe the figure? Who do they think the figure might represent?
  2. Share with students that the Warrior Figure was created in Costa Rica between A.D. 500 and 1000. Have students locate Costa Rica on a world map. Share some quick facts about Costa Rica (e.g., geography, climate, languages, natural resources, government, history) by distributing or displaying information from appropriate websites such as The World Factbook.
  3. Invite the students to compare the Warrior Figure with another object on Creativity Resource. You might want to choose an object that was made during the same time period (e.g. Stone Serpent Heads from Central Mexico, Breastplate from Panama) or made of the same material (e.g. Maya Vessel with Palace Scene, Incense Burner with Sun God Face)
  4. Ask students to reflect on and discuss the following questions: How are these art objects similar to and different from one another? What kind of materials and processes were used to create each art object? For what purpose(s) was each art object created?
  5. Encourage students to create a T-chart or write a short essay comparing and contrasting the two different art objects and the cultures or civilizations that created them. When students are finished, have them share their thoughts aloud and display their pieces in a prominent place in the classroom.


  • Lined paper and a pen or pencil for each student
  • Map of the world, visible to all students in the classroom
  • Internet access to The World Factbook webpage about Costa Rica
  • Copies of About the Art sheet on the Warrior Figure with Trophy Head (found at the end of the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • One color copy of the Warrior Figure for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Social Studies

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Warrior Figure with Trophy Head

Warrior Figure with Trophy Head

A.D. 500-1000

Artist not known, Costa Rica

Who Made It?

This sculpture was created by an artist from the Central Highlands or Atlantic Watershed region of Costa Rica. To make this ceramic sculpture, the artist used slabs and coils of clay to gradually build up the sculpture. This gave the clay time to partially dry so that it could support the weight above as more clay was added. The artist then coated the smooth surface with a reddish slip (a mixture of clay and water) and burnished the slip to bond it firmly to the clay. This vessel was probably fired (heated to harden the clay) out in the open, with clay objects placed in a slight depression in the ground and fuel carefully placed around them. This technique produced porous ceramics called earthenware.

After firing, the artist used a sharp tool to engrave or scratch patterns onto the figure’s legs and body. The artist applied the final decorative touches using a smoking technique. Areas where the artist wanted the original surface color to show through were painted with a resist material, possibly a slip, to protect the surface from smoke. When placed over a smoky fire, the areas of the vessel that weren’t covered with the resist material took on a darker tint. The resist material was then washed off, revealing the design.

What Inspired It?

This figure portrays a powerful man, probably a warrior or chief. He holds a head carefully with both hands. The head, which resembles his own, suggests that the warrior has defeated a peer—either killing him in battle or sacrificing him afterward. Alternatively, the head could be the cherished relic of a revered ancestor. Such a relic might have brought protection and spiritual power to descendants. The high status of the victor is evident in both his elaborate body decoration and his confident stance, with huge firmly planted feet, stocky legs, and projecting chin.


Vessel Opening
Vessel Opening

The opening of this sculptural vessel is at the top of the figure’s head. The vessel chamber in the body is sealed off from the hollow arms and legs. Thus, liquid could not leak through the multiple vent holes pierced in the figure’s limbs.


The rough nature of the white lines in the ears, the mouth, and on the legs, back, and hips indicate that they were engraved after the vessel was fired. If the lines had been carved into the soft clay before it was fired, a cleaner line would have been produced—a process called incising.


Created using the smoke and resist technique, designs on the arms, chest, and face of the figure may have imparted magical protection or powers, or they may have signaled clan membership or some other affiliation.


Notice the holes on the inner arms and inner legs. These holes served as vents and helped air circulate more freely during the firing process. This prevented the vessel from exploding.

Curvilinear Patterns
Curvilinear Patterns

The resist painting was usually done in curvilinear patterns. Notice the spirals on the arms.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.