Online Activities


Story Synopsis

About the Show Tales of the Maya Skies tells the story of how the ancient Maya interwove astronomy and culture to create a stable society that spanned 2,000 years, from 500 BCE to 1500 CE. Maya culture, life, architecture, and legends were intertwined with the ancient Maya’s scientific observation and recording of planetary movements.

The ancient Maya achieved an unparalleled understanding of astronomy. They developed an advanced system of mathematics that allowed them to create a set of calendars unrivaled in the ancient world.

Their logo-syllabic (symbols representing either a syllable or a word) writing system has fascinated linguists for centuries, and has only recently been decoded.


Setting The show is set primarily at Chichén Itzá, one of the last great city states of the Maya classic/post classic period. This site is renowned for the alignment of its temples to the Sun and Venus, and for the glyphs representing deities associated with the Sun and Venus.

Major Concepts

  1. As a result of ongoing celestial observation and recording, patterns were discerned and used to predict and guide the practical and cosmological life of the Maya.
    • Maya stories, traditions, and architecture illustrate what the Maya knew about astronomy and the role it played in daily life.
    • By observing the patterns of the Sun and Moon, the Maya created a precise and accurate calendar used to mark the seasons. The calendar was based on a sophisticated base-20 mathematical system incorporating the concept of zero.
    • By observing patterns of Venus, the Maya could predict rainy and dry seasons and plan agriculture activities and associated ceremonies.
  2. Cycles of nature and astronomy were ritualized and recorded by the Maya in art and books, incorporated into the alignment of buildings, and monitored by a complex and accurate calendar system.
  3. The scientific method of ongoing observation and recording of patterns that was used by the ancient Maya is integral to the scientific process used today.
  4. Over seven million Maya currently live in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, the United States, and other countries around the world.

Specific Cultural Concepts

Maya Culture
  1. The ancient Maya used astronomical knowledge to guide their lives.
  2. Maya kings and day keepers affirmed their power and assuaged the fears of their people by demonstrating their ability to predict astronomical events.
  3. The cosmological beliefs and daily life of the Maya were artfully recorded n books and paintings and carved into stone. While these stone carvings are decorative, their sole purpose was to record events during the reign of kings.
  4. Nature and cosmology were interwoven into the artwork and life of the Maya.

Specific Scientific and Mathematical Concepts

  1. Seasonal change occurs as a result of the tilt of the Earth and the light absorbed as the Earth orbits the Sun.
  2. A total solar eclipse occurs at predictable and precise times, and is a result of the passing of the Moon between the Sun and Earth.
  3. The apparent erratic movements of Venus, observable with the naked eye, occur as a result of the Sun’s glare blocking our view of Venus when the Earth, Venus and the Sun are perfectly aligned.
  4. The movements of Venus repeat themselves in an eight-year cycle.
  5. The Maya developed a sophisticated system of mathematics based on a place value of 20. They were one of few ancient cultures to use the concept of zero, allowing them to count into the millions.
  6. Using their sophisticated mathematical system the ancient Maya developed precise and accurate calendars.


National and California State Standards/Framework

The show content, and activities that follow,
meets the following US Education Standards:

NS: K-4.1, NS.5-8.1, NS.9-12.1 Science as Inquiry
NS.K-4.4, NS.5-8.4, NS.9-12.4 Earth and Space Science
NS.K4.5, NS.5-8.5, NS.9-12.5 Science and Technology

Content meets the following California State standards:

Science: Grades 3 – 12; Earth Science, Investigation and Experimentation
World History & Geography: Grade six; Ancient Civilizations (standard 6.1)
Mathematics: Grades 3 – 12; Number Sense, Mathematical Reasoning

References for Information and Activities

Additional Activities

Maya Math

Can you match numbers with Maya glyphs? Complete all eight levels and build “El Castillo.”

Maya Calendar

See today’s data in Maya glyphs or check your birthday. This application expires in 2012.

Chichen Itza Map

View photographs from the pre-Columbian site of Chichen Itza in the northern Yucatan.

Language Guide

Learn about the Mayan language. This guide explores the Yucatek dialect.