The Powerful Man

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Children will examine the images of the Stela that show the man depicted was a powerful ruler. The teacher will then help the children craft a few stories about him from two different perspectives, followed by children acting out each of these stories.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 40 minute lesson

Standards Area

Language Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • point out and describe at least three different details indicating the man depicted in the Stela was a powerful ruler;
  • identify the basic parts of a story;
  • contribute at least two ideas for a group story; and
  • feel comfortable acting out a short story.

Lesson

  1. Preparation: Read the “Things to Look For” information on the About the Art sheet for the Stela.
  2. Warm-up: Have children walk about the room as if they were a powerful, strong, and important person. Ask for a few volunteers to show the rest of the class their walk.
  3. Show the children the picture of the Stela. Ask them what they think about the man depicted and why.
  4. Point out the features that you read about in the “Things to Look For” section of the About the Art sheet and tell the children that these feathers show he was a powerful ruler.
  5. Tell the children you are going to write two stories together as a class. Remind them that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end (explaining as necessary). The first story is about the man as told by his daughter. The second story is about the man as told by a bird living in the jungle near where the man lives. You might want to set the scenes to help get the stories started. Write down their stories as they tell them so you can read them aloud later.
  6. After you write the stories, ask for some volunteers to help act out the different parts as you read the stories they’ve written. If you have props or costumes in your room for the children to wear, they can enhance the fun!

Materials

  • Paper and pen or pencil
  • About the Art sheet on the Stela (found at the end of the lesson plan)
  • Color copies of the Stela for children to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Standards

CO Standards

  • Language Arts

21st Century Skills

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

About the Art

Stela

Stela

A.D. 780

Maya

Who Made It?

Maya peoples have lived in what we now call Central America for at least three-thousand years. Their territory included parts of present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. Archeologists divide the ancient Maya civilization into three major time periods: Preclassic Maya (1500 B.C.–A.D. 250); Classic Maya (A.D. 250–900); and Post Classic Maya (A.D. 900–1500).

This wall panel was created during the Classic Period, which is considered the high point of Maya culture. The Classic Maya built cities with palaces, pyramids and temples to honor their gods, and made works of art in a variety of media. They are well known for their sophisticated hieroglyphic writing system, a number system that included the concept of zero, and a calendar for recording both historical and mythological dates. Expert astronomers, the Maya observed the movements of the planets and accurately predicted eclipses.

Maya artists were specialists who produced ceramics, stone sculptures, and jewelry of jade and shell. The Maya word for artist is its’at, which means “wise man” or “sage.” Maya scribes carved inscriptions in stone, and painted them on ceramics and in books made of fig bark paper. Hieroglyphic inscriptions recorded dynastic histories, including births, deaths, and marriages. Military victories and religious ceremonies were also recorded. Like artists today, some Maya artists even signed their works.

What Inspired It?

This carved limestone slab was a wall panel from a Maya palace or administrative structure. Maya rulers commissioned stone monuments to glorify their ancestry and to proclaim their wealth, taste, military victories, and spiritual power. The image shows a Maya ruler performing an incense scattering ritual that celebrates the end of a 10 year period called a lahuntun. Along the left side of the panel, and across the top are individual signs called glyphs. The glyphs represent words or syllables that can be combined to form words. The glyphs on this panel show the date December 2, A.D. 780.

We know of two other stone carvings of this ruler, one in a private collection in Mexico, and the other in an Australian museum. These carvings suggest that he was an important ruler in his day. In both carvings, the man’s distinctive facial features are clearly identifiable and he is shown grasping prisoners by the hair.

Details

Glyphs
Glyphs

The hieroglyphic text forms a wall and ceiling around the figure, suggesting that he is standing inside a building. The Maya developed their own system of writing, which archeologists consider to be the most sophisticated ever developed in the Americas. The written language consists of hundreds of individual signs, called glyphs, which are paired in columns that read from left to right and top to bottom. The Maya writing system allowed room for artistic expression, so Maya glyphs are often quite elaborate. The first nine glyphs in this carving record the date; the tenth glyph is the verb; and the remaining thirteen glyphs describe the ruler. From the glyphs we know that the ruler was the master of a captive named Yax-ik’nal, and that he captured fourteen other prisoners, which suggests that he was very successful in battle. The glyphs also tell us that the ruler was at least 41 years old, and no older than 60, at the time the stela was made.

Jeweled Headband
Jeweled Headband

The man in the monument can be identified as a ruler because he wears a jeweled headband around his forehead called a sac hunal, which means “resplendent one.” It is similar to a crown and would have been tied around the ruler’s head when he came to power. In the center of the headband is the head of a deity, which was usually carved in jade. The deity wears a long, three-pointed cap and is nicknamed the “jester god.”

Ornaments
Ornaments

The ruler wears a jade ornament in the shape of a head on his chest. Long quetzal feathers decorated with jade beads fall down his back. Both of these ornaments are signs of his powerful status.

Distinctive Facial Markings
Distinctive Facial Markings

Notice the figure’s heavily lidded eye, the swirling line on his nose that could be a facial scar, and jade bead ornaments on his nose.

Headdress
Headdress

On top of the ruler’s headband sits a jaguar head. Above that is the glyph ak’bal, which means “darkness.” Smoke or fire rises out of the ak’bal glyph.

Clothing
Clothing

The man wears a knotted scarf around his neck and a long cape decorated with three human eyes. Both of these are part of the special clothing the Maya wore when performing sacrificial rituals.

Incense Bag
Incense Bag

In this ritual, the ruler is shown scattering incense. His left hand holds a long bag containing the incense, and his right hand is in the scattering gesture. At his feet is a large basket containing long strips of paper and a small tied bundle.

Empty Space
Empty Space

The empty space between the figure and the glyphs emphasizes the outline of the figure, particularly in the areas around his face and headdress.

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.