Web Map of Understanding

Cylinder Vessel with Image of Seated Lord and Attendants at Court
Artist not known, Maya, Guatemala
600–800 CE

Students will critically examine and discuss the Vase with Palace Scene and use clues they find about the object, as well as researched information, to create web maps that show their findings. Student will gain an appreciation for the importance of chocolate in Maya society.

Intended Age Group
Secondary (grades 6-12)
Standards Area
Social Studies
Lesson Length
One 50 minute lesson

Students will be able to:

  • describe and analyze what they see concerning the Vase with Palace Scene;
  • discuss the relevance of chocolate in Maya civilization; and
  • identify and categorize elements of and information about the Vase with Palace Scene.


  1. Show students the image of the Vase with Palace Scene. Ask students in small groups or as a whole class to describe what they see. Ask them if they are able to identify any clues as to the culture or the age of the object. What can they infer from looking at the object, such as what it might have been used for and who might have made it?
  2. Share the information from the About the Art sheet with students and ask students to share any background knowledge they might have about the Maya. Show the image in the 360º view so students can see all the details and read all of the historical clues. Go over the “Things to Look For” information and locate those things on the image.
  3. Ask students to find the location of the Maya city-states on a map. What modern day countries does this include? Consider how the geographical location might influence the culture of the people and even the design of the object. (For more information on Maya city-states, check out this History Channel website on the Maya.)
  4. Explain that they will analyze what they can conclude about the Maya civilization of this time by interpreting the information that they have gathered.
  5. Students will create a web map either in small groups or a class. Have them start by drawing a sketch of the vase in the middle of the paper. Then have them draw balloon shapes connected to the vase where they can categorize information such as “economic,” “diet,” “writing system,” and “social structure.” Have students write what they have learned about these categories in spokes around that category balloon. Keep going until there is nothing more that the vase can tell us about the Maya.
  6. If possible, end this exploration by sharing a small piece of chocolate with chilies with each of the students. There are several varieties that can be found at local grocery stores (in the candy aisle). Invoking a sense such as taste, particularly with the surprise of the spice, can better solidify learning.


  • Note-taking paper for each student
  • Variety of pencils, markers, or other writing implements
  • Paper, chart, or a white board to display web maps
  • Internet access to show the 360º image of the Vase with Palace Scene, found on the object page on Creativity Resource
  • Optional: Internet access to the “Find Out More” section of the Vase with Palace Scene for further study
  • Optional: A small piece of chocolate with chilies for each of the students to taste. Several varieties can be found in the candy aisles of grocery or specialty food stores
  • Optional—information from the History Channel’s website on the Maya
  • Color copies of the image for students to share, or the ability to project the image on a screen or wall
  • Copies of About the Art sheet on the Vase with Palace Scene (found at the end of the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online


CO Standards
  • Social Studies
21st Century Skills
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

Cylinder Vessel with Image of Seated Lord and Attendants at Court

600–800 CE
About the Artist

We don’t know the name of the artist who made this vessel, but it’s apparent that they were very skilled. The artist was able to give the human figures depicted on the vessel depth and substance, conveying individual personalities and even humor. A hieroglyphic text encircles the top of the vessel and occurs within the painted scene. It took great skill to paint both the figures and hieroglyphs with such control.

The glyphic text indicates that this vessel was probably made in what is now Guatemala. Vessels like this were made from local clays and other materials that were added for strength. Before firing the vessel, the artist covered it with a white or orange slip, a mixture of clay and water, to serve as background color. The artist then painted images and designs onto the polished surface with mineral-pigmented slips. The last step was to fire the vessel in an open pit.

What Inspired It

The inscription on this vessel tells us it was crafted for the father of the central, seated lord and was used for drinking cacao or chocolate. Painted on the thin-walled cylindrical vessel is a scene of palace life that involves a tribute payment to the lord. Goods on display include two circular fans woven of reed or palm leaf, several stacks of textiles, and three large bags of cacao or chocolate beans. Cacao beans were a gourmet food item and could also be used as a form of money. While the assembled men participate openly in the event, two women (seated on the right) are shielded from public view. Probably members of the noble household, they appear to listen to the discussion with interest.

Life in noble Maya courts was both luxurious and sophisticated. Maya cities incorporated elaborate stone and stucco architecture, carved ruler portraits on free-standing stone slabs, and painted large-scale mural scenes. Elegant, multi-colored painted ceramics were owned and used by the elite.


Bags of Cacao Beans

The Maya used cacao as the basis for chocolate drinks and as a form of currency. Three bags of cacao beans are depicted on the step below the principle lord and the youths, probably sons, who sit next to him.

Cacao Vessel

Directly in front of the principle lord is a tall cylindrical vessel, most likely filled with a chocolate beverage.

Sloping Forehead

A sloping forehead and elongated head shape were signs of beauty among the Maya elite. Sometimes, an infant’s still soft head was bound between boards to achieve the desired head shape, emphasizing a smooth unbroken line between the nose and the forehead.

Pink Wash

A delicate pink wash shades the inscriptions and the scene. The colored wash provides the vessel with a distinct look.


The artist has arranged the ten figures in an interior space that features a two-level platform, curtains, and woven mats.


The painted inscription records the name of the large central figure, who is the ruler of the court (Nabnal K’inich Lakam). It also names his father (Yuknoom K’awiil), from the site of Rio Azul in present-day Guatemala. The inscription also identifies the vessel as a drinking vessel for cacao or chocolate.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.