Amazing Maya Inventions You Can Build Yourself New Book Designed to Help Kids Learn History of the Ancient Maya Civilization

Article excerpt

From calendars to pyramids, jade necklaces to tortillas, Amazing Maya Inventions You Can Build Yourself by Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt ($14.95, Nomad Press, January 2007) brings to life one of the world's most fascinating and influential civilizations through handson building projects.

Amazing Maya Inventions You Can Build Yourself offers the reader an engaging exploration of the history and culture of the Maya through building and crafts projects that focus on the Maya's amazing creations.

Readers are introduced to the major figures and discoveries of the powerful Maya civilization through informational sidebars, biographies, historical facts, trivia, illustrations and activities. Most of the building can be done with simple household supplies and minimal adult supervision, and the results are as creative as they are educational.

Readers can:

[check] Build a model of a Maya Pyramid

[check] Create "jade" jewelry and a jadeite burial mask

[check] Learn how to read Maya glyphs

[check] Create and interpret a Maya calendar wheel

Through these and other building and hands-on activities, readers will get a first-hand look at the daily lives of Central America's most advanced ancient civilization. The book can also be a helpful tool for educators wanting to bring hands-on or supplemental learning activities into the classroom. CR spoke with author Sheri BellRehwoldt.

Q: How did you become interested in writing about the Maya?

When I visited Cancun several years ago, I took a day trip to the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza, in Mexico's northern Yucatan Peninsula. In the center of the ruins is a pyramid topped by a temple called El Castillo, the Spanish term for "the Castle." As I climbed the skinny stone steps, it felt weird to realize I was reenacting history, walking the very steps that Maya priests and kings climbed on the balls of their feet to offer up the blood of human sacrifices to their many gods. I got so dizzy at the top of the pyramid that I had to sit down! The Maya practice of sacrificing humans gives me the willies, but surely that religious practice didn't give the Spanish invaders the right to torture the Maya. The Maya were not the savages the Spanish made them out to be.

Q: In researching the book, what information surprised you the most?

That the Maya were so advanced in language, art, mathematics, farming and even studying the stars. They knew so much! But that knowledge, which they carefully recorded in special bark books called codices, was destroyed in bonfires set by the Spanish. Why? Because the Spanish priests set on converting the Maya to Catholicism considered them to be of the Devil. The world is fortunate, indeed, that a handful of the books survived when they were sent back to Europe as souvenirs. The books were discovered in European libraries only after John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood alerted the world to the Maya ruins by publishing their book Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan in 1843.

Q: What is the most important invention or creation that came out of the Maya Civilization?

Perhaps there is no single invention that was most important, as their contributions were lost to the world for so many years. But it's important to recognize their achievements, given that the Maya living in the rainforests of Central America today are held in low regard. Obviously, the fact that they were the only Mesoamerican people with a complete writing system makes them unique, as does their practice of using the number zero as a place holder in mathematical equations. And as many medicinal remedies used by the Maya are currently being studied by researchers, to find cures to alleviate pain and disease, it's important to recognize those contributions as well.

Q: What purpose do the activities serve in the book?

To make history come alive for kids. We all learn more by doing than reading or listening. …