Introduction & Timeline


The Maya were primitive and unsophisticated people.

Absolutely not!

The Maya created an incredible civilization in the rainforest where it is extremely humid, with lots of bugs, dangerous animals and little water. 

Here they built spectacular temples and palaces without the use of metal tools, the wheel, or any pack animals, such as the donkey, ox or elephant.

They were the only civilization in the whole of the Americas to develop a complete writing system like ours. 

They were only one of two cultures in the world to develop the zero in their number system and so were able to make advanced calculations and became great astronomers.

They were extremely advanced in painting and making sculptures and they played the earliest team sport in the world.

Most importantly, for Dr Diane, is that we have the ancient Maya to thank for the wonder of chocolate!  

Watch the video above explaining why Dr Diane chose to study the Maya above all other ancient cultures.

“Today was amazing. It was a really special experience. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is going to go home and say how awesome the Maya were!”

A pupil’s reaction after a visit by Dr Diane

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The Maya city of Tikal, Guatemala

A Word of Caution

As the Maya have never been taught as a topic before its introduction to the primary history curriculum in 2014, there is much misinformation online and in books about them. Teachers need as much support as possible in teaching this little-known topic and it is essential that they have access to accurate resources. Hopefully, Dr Diane’s resources on this website will help both teachers and children learn the truth about this fascinating culture.

One example of this misinformation, is that the Maya are often lumped together with the Aztecs. The Aztecs were very different to the Maya, speaking a different language and having a different writing system. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan is as far away from the great Maya site of Tikal as London is from Milan, Italy! Also the Maya civilisation began long before the Aztecs, over 1500 years before!

Dr Diane addresses the myths about the Maya throughout her website, but the best way to start learning about who the Maya are and who they are not is to read her article below:

Before we move on though, we will address the spelling and pronunciation of the word “Maya:

Do we say Mayan? How about Mayas?

Click below for the answer:


Actually, it is nearly alway Maya (pronounced My-a).

Their calendar is called the Maya calendar, their civilisation is called the Maya civilisation, their art is called Maya art.

The only time you should use the adjective ‘Mayan’ is when you are talking about their languages, the Mayan languages.

If you are ever unsure then always use ‘Maya’, as you will nearly always be correct, instead of nearly always wrong!


Mesoamerica is a classification that is not defined by geography or languages, rather by the presence of cultural traits.

Listen to how the word Mesoamerica is pronounced.

These traits included forms of a game with a rubber ball in a rectangular court, codices, which are books made of sheets of bark paper or deerskin and a common diet of maize, beans and squash.

The ancient Maya lived in a region that today includes Guatemala, Belize, the Yucatán peninsula (Mexico) and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador.  

Listen to how the countries names are pronounced.

Yucatan Peninsula
El Salvador

Their homeland is bounded by the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

The area was geographically diverse and included the rich southern Pacific coastal plains, the high fertile basins of the volcanic highlands of southern Guatemala and central Chiapas and the lowland rainforest region of northern Guatemala, Belize and Yucatán.

Map of the Maya region (from Mary Miller 2014 Maya Art and Architecture)

The central area of the lowlands was a closed basin, with swamps and shallow lakes.  The water supply was seasonal, which necessitated the construction of bajos in order to have water throughout the year.

Listen to how the word bajo is pronounced: 

Yucatán had thinner soils and more limited surface water and so required different adaptations, with a greater emphasis on coastal trade and various types of water catchment systems, such as chultuns – large subterranean chambers with constricted orifices and cenotes – natural limestone sinks dropping to an exposed water table.

Listen to how the words chultun and cenote are pronounced:

A chultun at the Maya site of Chichen Itza

The Maya Rainforest

In the rainforest region (the lowlands), particular in the Petén, Guatemala, is where we see the rise of Maya civilization, a place that it is hot and humid and has little water.

Tops of Maya pyramids peaking out of the rainforest at Tikal, Guatemala

Maya Chronology

We see people living in villages in the area from 2000 BC and then after 1000 BC we start seeing large buildings, and later by 300 BC pyramids, art, writing and rulers.

  • Preclassic Period: 2000 BC to AD 250
  • Classic Period:  AD 250 to 900
  • Postclassic Period: AD 900 to 1524
  • Colonial Period: AD 1524 onwards
The Maya city of Palenque, Mexico

Maya cities generally contained a ceremonial centre where great pyramids, temples, palaces and ballcourts were built. Many centres had causeways (roadways) and also stelae; standing stones that contained both portraits of rulers and writings about them.

Maya City of Yaxchilan, Mexico

 John Stephens (an American diplomat) and Frederick Catherwood (British artist and architect), were the people that who brought the Maya to popular attention. They visited some of the Maya ruins in the 1840’s and wrote about them in books such as “Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan”. These books were very popular and many people became interested in learning more about the ancient Maya.

Children’s Activities

  • Poster Maya Civilisation

Examples of Maya Displays in schools Dr Diane has visited

Make your own Maya Chatterbox!

What you will need:


1. Print and cut out the chatterbox.

2. Fold and unfold the chatterbox along all four lines of symmetry. The creases will form a “star” in the middle.

3. Place on a flat surface, the blank side facing up and fold all four corners. Fold each corner into the centre of the “star”.

4. Turn the chatterbox over. Fold each corner into the centre of the “star”.

5. Fold the chatterbox in half – so facing outwards are four square flaps.

6. Insert your thumbs and index fingers under the flaps. As you pinch your fingers together, the chatterbox will take shape.

7. Several other sets of instructions can be found on the internet, including pictures, diagrams, movie clips and written instructions – just Google “fortune teller instructions” or ask a friend or adult.

Maya Snakes and Ladders Boardgame

What you will need:


1. Print out and colour the 2 boardgame pages above.

2. This game can be played with 1,2,3 or 4 players! To play alone, simply time yourself from the start and see how quickly you can find the lost city. Then play again and see if you can beat your previous time.

3. To play with 2 or more players, use a counter or a rubber for each player.

4. Place the counters on the “Start” square. Your aim is to get to the end of the game and find the lost Maya city before your opponent does.

5. Roll the dice and move your counter. If you land on a vine, follow the direction of the arrows and move up the vine.

6. If you land on a snake’s mouth, follow the direction of the arrows and move back down the snake, until you reach the tail.

7. If you land on a square with instructions, then simply follow the instructions!

Good luck and have fun!

Look at these other great ideas for Maya boardgames sent in by Lomeshaye Primary, Neston and St. Theresa’s Primary, Leeds.

Resources to Download

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

Dr Diane’s Maya Timeline

An interactive timeline of the Maya including 11 timeline cards highlighting key events in their history, additional questions filled with interesting facts and a 2-piece blank timeline for display.

This product is suited for the Maya Key Stage 2 (KS2) Curriculum.

Created with Wildgoose Education, the timeline can be used as a basis for a whole topic; as a starter or plenary activity; or as a wonderful tool to monitor the progression of pupils’ learning. 

Example Cards:

AD 1524-1697 – The Conquest of the Maya by the Spanish.

Who were the last Maya people to be defeated by the Spanish in 1697? The Itza in Guatemala.

300 BC – El Mirador, Guatemala – the first Maya city

What were Maya pyramids used for? As temples for workshop and ceremonies.

21st December 2012 – The Maya Calendar

Why is this date mentioned in regard to the Maya calendar?  It has been suggested that the ancient Maya predicted that the world would end on this date. This is not true though, 21 December 2012 was only the end of a cycle for the Maya and a new one would begin the next day, much like our New Year’s Eve or end of the millennium.

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.

Dr Diane’s Resource – A Journey Through the Maya World

A Journey Through the Maya World won the Bett Award in 2016 in the Primary Digital Content category.

Formerly known as the British Educational Training and Technology Show, the Bett Awards are an annual celebration for the highest levels of achievement by companies that supply Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for education.

Dr Diane partnered with Computeam and London Grid for Learning to produce this amazing product.

Children at Grindleford Primary looking suitably impressed!

Engaging activity sheets encourage children to investigate the Maya world, through their calendar, maths, cities, art, writing and more.

Simply hover a tablet or phone over the pages to watch players compete in the ancient ballgame of Pok-ta-Pok or explore a 3D Maya pyramid.

Each ActiveWorksheet develops a different primary history curriculum theme such as mapping the Maya or calendars.

The ActiveWorksheets can be photocopied, and the trigger images will even work in black and white.

Alongside this book is a free app for Android and iOS.

The app uses ActiveLens augmented reality technology, that Computeam has created to bring the pages of the book to life.

I used ‘A Journey through the Maya world’ with my Year 6 class. The children were amazed by the technology. The use of augmented reality really engaged the pupils and I loved watching their faces as the pages came to life!

Watch the children at Brooklands Junior School, London having fun with the magical resource!

School history books can often be really dull, but this interactive resource with its easy to use app is great fun. With the expertise of Dr Diane Davies, you can be sure that this resource gives an accurate account of the Maya World.

Mark Woolley Assistant Headteacher at Our Lady of Mount Carmel RC Primary School, Ashton-Under-Lyne

Look at the surprised faces when Dr Diane showing it to the Maya children at Melody School!

And there is more…

A virtual visit by Dr Diane to your school!

It is a real pleasure for Dr Diane to share with you her expert knowledge on the Maya. She is extremely passionate about her specialism and so has created interactive videos for schools to use as well as offering live question and answer sessions – it is just as if she is with the children themselves!

Or how about a visit in person to your school?

Schemes of Work to Download

As a result of various CPD trips that Dr Diane undertook with teachers to the Maya area, a detailed scheme of work has been written on the Maya, which includes lesson plans, teacher notes, slides and images for teachers to download and use in their class.

This scheme of work is unique in actually being written by both a specialist on the Maya and primary school teachers who have spent time in the area visiting the ancient cities and spending time with the existing Maya.

In particular, Mark Woolley (Our Lady of Mount Carmel RC Primary School, Ashton-Under-Lyne), Richard Petts (Grindleford Primary School, Derbyshire), Jennifer Farmer (Aldington Primary School, Kent), Selina King (Holywell School, Bedfordshire) and Lisa White (Townend Junior School, Derbyshire).

Examples of what children have made by using the scheme of work and resources on Dr Diane’s website.

The lesson plans and teacher notes within the scheme of work are distributed amongst the Maya world subject pages.

However, if you would like all of them together as a pdf, this is available at a small fee. The entire fee is paid in the form of a donation to the Maya charity, Chok Education, in helping Maya children. So please think about buying this and so helping Maya children get the education they deserve.

The children at Melody School, Guatemala.

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.

Historical Association Scheme of Work

Dr Diane wrote the Maya Scheme of Work for the Historical Association.

Pupils will learn about the remarkable achievements of the ancient Maya. Through these activities pupils will learn about the Maya perspective of time, the calendar system, writing, maths and the environment.  In doing so they should see the stark contrast between their own history and that of the Maya.
Access The Historical Association website (Free for Primary HA Members)

Signs of Change: A Glimpse of Past & Present Cultural Landscapes of Guatemala

This resource was written by teachers during their trip to Guatemala in which Dr Diane was the guest lecturer. It was organised by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies (Tulane University, New Orleans) in 2012.

It includes art activities for Key Stage 2 (see Grades 3 and 5).

This curriculum unit was designed to examine the culture, language, and geography of the Maya during an important moment in the Maya calendar; December 21, 2012.

This unit follows an interdisciplinary model of incorporating area studies across disciplines in order to construct a deeper understanding of the Maya and creates a more comprehensive approach to teaching global competence.
Access the resource (PDF)

Other Resources

BBC Teach
Learn about the Maya with these funny reality TV skits parodying shows such as “The Apprentice” or “Dragon’s Den”. Dr Diane was the consultant on these shows.
Access “BBC Teach”

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Resources for teachers on the Maya including a bingo-like game where pupils will become familiar with Maya cultural symbols.
Access the resource

Preserving Maya Heritage (British Museum and Google Arts & Culture)
Fantastic resources on the Maya, ancient and modern.
Access “Preserving Maya Heritage”

National Geographic
Lesson plans, activities and maps for the Maya.
Access “National Geographic”

Feel free to also contact Dr Diane’s colleague and friend, Professor Liz Graham at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, who also is a Maya specialist:

14 responses to “Introduction & Timeline”

  1. Natalie says:

    Would it be possible to get a copy of the resources used for the chronology lesson?

    • Diane Davies says:

      Dear Natalie,

      I am afraid the resources for the chronology lesson haven’t been completed yet. A teacher has been working on this during the holiday break. Once I receive it, I will upload it.

  2. My Homepage says:

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  3. Susan says:

    This is so amazing, thank you so much

  4. sarah says:

    Dr Diane Davies! You have come to my school once and I really enjoyed the different activities and new Information that you gave me!
    You are so good.

  5. Vanessa McEvoy says:

    Where can I find the findings cards resources for the chronology lesson?
    Thank you

  6. Ashly Mendes says:

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    I just want to say thank you for the help Iam 11 yrs.old I got a 100%thanks to you keep up the good work and put the correct imformation also it is very important to say the true story of the maya civilization.

  7. Sarah Sutcliffe says:

    Hi Diane,

    I’m just having a look at your Mayan Lesson Resources. What an interesting wealth of information that you have here, and clearly you are an expert on the topic, so I’ve come to the right place to investigate the topic for my Year 6 children. I have attempted to download the Chronology Lesson Plan but it says that the file is now in your bin (digitally speaking I would imagine!). Is there an updated link to it? Thanks.

    In anticipation,

    • Diane Davies says:

      Dear Sarah,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know about this error – I have updated it and you should be able to download the lesson plan. Also, if you do have any problems downloading the plans – if it asks for permission – this is only because you are using your school’s email address, and your school has a strong firewall. So all you need to do is use your personal email address instead. I am glad you are enjoying the resources – i am writing more as we speak!
      Take care

  8. Danielle says:


    I just wondered whether the resources for the chronology lesson are available please?

  9. Amanda Gray says:

    Hi Diane
    We are really enjoying using your very informative resources; they are perfect for our teaching of the Maya civilisation.
    We are interested to know why the dates and names of the latter Maya Periods on the website page for the Maya timeline are different to the dates on the Teacher notes? Have we missed something?
    Thank you in advance
    Kind regards

    • Diane Davies says:

      Hi Amanda, I am glad that our resources are of use to you. Both dates are correct – as there was contact with the Maya over various periods – 1521 is where we see the first contact and then 1542 is where there is a pronounced involvement. If you want to choose just one date then 1542 is fine.

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