In the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, there is the site of an ancient Mayan civilization, called Chichen Itza. This city was built here around 750 AD, close to two cenotes (deep water-filled sinkholes), which were used for religious sacrifices . At the ruins of Chichen Itza, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will find a large grassy games field (to play a sport whereupon you throw balls into sideways baskets attached to the walls), many buildings, and a mathematically brilliant castle, El Castilla, also known as the Kukulkan Pyramid). Abandoned in around 1200, the site is now a major archaeological site, as well as the focus of intense astronomical interest.
Download a larger image and share the photo with your class, then try these discussion questions and classroom activities:
There’s something very special about El Castilla, in Chichen Itza. Every equinox (descent of Kukulcan), the light on the north side as the sun moves projects a serpent, slithering down the side of the steps. Watch this video – do you see it?
Explore the area of Chichen Itza with this virtual tour. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen there?
Learn about the history of Chichen Itza by watching this video. Why do you think the Mayans abandoned this site to the jungle?
Do you love math? If so, you’ll appreciate this treasure trove of information which illuminates the math, geometry, and astronomy used to build El Castilla. Read it through, and have each student share their favorite aspect of Chichen Itza. Is it the serpent’s shadow? The chirping pyramid? The brilliant math? Or something else?