Music and Materials


Although jade is the second hardest stone in the world, the Maya were able to fashion jewellery and other ornaments out of it!

Diamond is the hardest but it you hit it with a hammer, it will shatter into a dozen pieces. If you hit a piece of jade with a hammer instead, it will only ring like a bell!

Dr Diane talks about jade.

Page Contents

What Materials did the Maya use?

The Maya were great artists and used a variety of materials including limestone and other stone, clay, wood, stucco (fine plaster), shell, bone and jade.

In the absence of metal tools, the Maya used chert (flint) and obsidian to make tools and weapons.

Examples of Maya Art


Did you know?

The Maya also painted spectacular murals such as the one discovered at San Bartolo, Guatemala that are really early in date – around 100 BC! Dr Diane was extremely fortunate to work with these murals. They are well preserved and illustrate the Maya creation myth and also Maya kingship.


Obsidian is a dark volcanic glass formed by the rapid cooling of lava from volcanoes.

Listen to how the word is pronounced:

It was highly prized for its razor sharp edge and mirror-like quality, and was used for making knives.


Chert (also called flint) is a hard stone, is tougher and more durable than obsidian.

The Maya god Chaak was seen as the creator of flint and obsidian and is often seen carrying a flint axe in his hands.

It was used to make fire as it easily sparks, but also used to make tools and spearpoints.

Music of the Maya

There are many depictions on painted vases and murals of the ancient Maya playing musical instruments. We also have been lucky enough to find remains of these instruments too.  Instruments could be made out of clay, wood, bone, shell and even reeds such as trumpets, drums, flutes, whistles and rattles.

Music was played on many occasions, from ballgame events and warfare, to festivities at court.

Elaborately modelled clay flutes have preserved that look more like of a piece of art than an instrument!

The image above depicts a conch shell that was used as a trumpet. It is very hard to play…see how children at Brookland School, London fare…

And now the professionals!

Again with a flute.

Children’s Activities

Make your own Maya Death Mask

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What you will need:

  • Mask template
  • Stiff card
  • Scissors
  • Tissue paper – white, light green, dark green
  • Kitchen paper
  • Glue stick
  • PVA glue
  • Paint brush
  • Sticky tape
  • Acrylic paint – white and black


1. Stick your mask and nose outline onto a stiff piece of card using a glue stick.

2. Carefully cut out the mask and nose shapes following the outside lines.

3. Fold the nose in half and position it on the mask. Fix in place using sticky tape.

4. Scrunch a piece of kitchen paper into a ball and fix it underneath the nose using sticky tape to form the bulbous part of the nostrils.

5. Roll short lengths of kitchen paper to form the lips and hold them together with small pieces of sticky tape.

6. Fix in place on the mask using sticky tape.

7. Cut the white tissue paper into small squares and stick them onto the mask using a paintbrush and PVA glue, being careful not to make the mask too wet. You will be able to push the tissue paper around all the contours using the brush.

8. Leave to dry.  This will form a base layer for your mask.

9. Cut the light green tissue paper into small squares and stick them onto the mask using the paintbrush and PVA glue. Cover the whole mask.  Leave any squares that are overhanging the edge of the mask sticking out as these will be glued down later when the front of the mask is dry.

10. Cut a small amount of the dark green tissue paper into small squares.

11. Stick these squares onto the mask leaving gaps where the light-green colour can still be seen. This replicates the different colours of jade that were used to cover ancient masks.

12. When the front of the mask is dry, turn it over and stick any protruding pieces of tissue paper onto the back of the mask using PVA glue. Allow to dry.

13. Paint the eyes with white acrylic paint and when dry, paint the inside of the eye with black acrylic paint.

14. Your death mask is now complete!

Have a look at some wonderful death masks schools have sent in to Dr Diane.

Ipad projects donated by Ellie Payne, Lomeshaye Junior School

Make your own Maya Headdress

Source: Mélanie Forné (illustrator) & MUNAE, Guatemala 2017
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What you will need:

• Scissors
• Tape measure
• PVA glue
• Glue stick
• Masking tape
• Corrugated card (an old cardboard box would be suitable)
• Paper (orange or yellow)
• Two split-pin fasteners
• Cocktail sticks
• Ribbon, buttons, beads or large sequins to decorate
• Craft feathers, a mixture of lengths from 10cm to 30cm


1. Cut a strip of corrugated card 6cm wide and 5cm longer than the circumference of your head to make the headband.

2. Decorate the headband by attaching ribbon pieces, buttons, beads or large sequins with PVA glue. Avoid decorating the overlapping section. Allow the glue to dry fully.

3. Overlap the two ends of the headband.

4. Poke split-pin fasteners through the two thicknesses of the card, spreading the prongs out on the inside of the band to hold it together.

5. Cut a piece of corrugated card measuring 8xm by 10cm for the front-piece. Now, cut a sheet of orange or yellow paper to the same size (or use white paper and colour it in).

6. Decorate the paper with black splodges to look like jaguar-skin

7. Stick this onto the card using a glue stick.

8. Arrange your five long feathers so that they are evenly spread along the top of the jaguar-skin front-piece.

9. Apply a small amount of glue to the stem of each feather and poke them carefully into the holes of the cardboard. If the stems of the feathers are larger than the holes in the cardboard, trim them so that they fit before applying the glue. To make it easier to attach the feathers, keep the cardboard flat and stick the feathers in horizontally.

10. Turn your jaguar-skin front-piece over so that you can see the reverse side. Take eight shorter feathers and arrange them along the sides.

11. Stick each one to the card using masking-tape.

12. Attach the front-piece to the headband using six cocktail sticks. Cover each cocktail stick in PVA glue. Push each stick half-way into the holes of the cardboard on the base of the front-piece.

13. Now push the remainder of the sticks into the holes of the cardboard of the headband so that both parts are attached. Allow to dry.

14. Your headdress is now ready to wear!

Great examples of headdresses sent in to Dr Diane.

And there is more!

Make Your Own Maya Bird Whistle

What you will need:

  • Clay – 3 balls of clay each about the size of a golf ball
  • 2 Popsicle sticks – cut off the rounded end on one to make it square
  • Metal and wooden tools for making textures
  • Pencil
  • Water and small natural sponge
  • Piece of wood  – for shaping thumb pots


  1. Make 2 thumb pots with the balls of clay. Flatten the top edges. Use your piece of wood to shape the pots by patting them, smooth the surface of the pots as much as you can.

2. Scratch into the top edges and wet with some water or slip (wet clay).  Join the 2 thumb pots together, smoothing over the join so it can’t be seen.

3. Gently pull the clay upwards at one end to make a neck using your fingers, and make a tail shape at the other end, then cut it off square. Smooth the surface with a bit of water (not too much!) and your fingers.

4. Take some clay from the third ball of clay and make a head and beak, press this firmly onto the neck. Model and smooth, adding more clay if needed to make a nice shape.

5. Make a wedge shape about 2 cm x 1 cm for the mouthpiece of the whistle.

6. Wet the wider end of the wedge and stick it firmly on to the tail of the bird. Then take a popsicle stick and carefully push it right through the centre of the wedge into the body.

7. This is the hard bit!  Take the popsicle stick with squared-off end and push it in underneath the body at an angle of 45 degrees towards the tail until it hits the first stick. Make an opening.

8.  Take out the sticks, and clean up the opening very carefully with a pottery knife or tool, making the hole a bit larger.   Blow through the mouthpiece and see if it whistles, if not, then push the sticks in again and make sure the edges of the clay are very clean and sharp.

9. Decorate the bird by drawing lines with the pencil and pressing into the clay with the wood and metal tools. Add some wings and feathers if you like!  If you are using clay, leave your whistle to dry; then it can be fired and you can paint it with some bright colours.

Resources to Download

These resources were written by teachers on a CPD trip with Dr Diane to the Maya area. You can download them below.

Please note – you will need to use your personal, rather than your school’s email address to download these files, as most schools disable the ability to receive items from outside their domain. 

You can access the complete scheme of work for a small fee, in the form of a donation to the charity Chok Education, which supports the education of Maya children.

Dr Diane’s Thinking Cards

20 A5 Cards featuring a photograph on one side and five questions or activity suggestions on the reverse.

The variety of questions and activities means that work can be pitched at an appropriate level for most abilities.

The cards have been designed to develop an enquiring approach to the subject and encourage observational and descriptive skills.

This versatile set lends itself to whole class, small group or individual work, forming the basis for the whole topic or as a starter or plenary activities.

Created with Wildgoose Education.

And there is more…

A virtual visit from Dr Diane to your school! Look at the wonders of Maya art and try your hand at being an archaeologist.

Dr Diane displays over 20 artefacts from her collection. Children are quizzed on each one and answer what the object is made of, how it was used and who it may have belonged to. Dr Diane gives the answers for each object explaining how it was used in Maya life.

Other Resources

Music from the Land of the Jaguar: The Princeton University Art Museum
Select an instrument and hear its sound when played, for example a conch shell trumpet or friction/string drum:
Access “Music from the Land of the Jaguar”

Peabody Museum Exhibit: Ocarinas Exhibit:
Access “Ocarinas of the Americas – Music Made in Clay”

Bonampak Murals
Mark Zender talking about what the murals of Bonampak show in regards to Maya music:

Justin Kerr’s Maya Vase Database
Excellent database of Maya vase rollouts and photographs of Maya artefacts that can be downloaded and used in class:
Access “Maya Vase Database”

The British Museum
Maya Lintel from the museum – teaching ideas and the images can be downloaded for use in the classroom.
Access “Teaching History with 100 Objects

Murals of San Bartolo
After looking at the photos of the San Bartolo murals, students can make their own mural either on own or collectively about themselves or their town. The mural could reflect life and events in their town.
Access “Murals of San Bartolo”

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