Earth Science Week Classroom Activities

Earth and Ancient Architecture

Activity Source:

Archaeological Institute of America. Adapted with permission.

Architects and engineers often design and build structures inspired by the earth’s natural formations and shapes. This was also true for the ancient builders that built pyramidal structures and platforms with broad bases and tapered sides, inspired in most cases by the hills and mountains they saw around them. While many societies built them, pyramids and platforms across different cultures were not all alike, differing in shape, function, and construction materials, and techniques.

The construction of these monumental structures took many years and involved thousands of people. Ancient builders used the materials available to them. For example, the scarcity of stone in ancient Mesopotamia led the builders to use bricks made of mud to build their platforms called “ziggurats.” The Egyptians used locally available limestone and granite for their pyramids, the Maya used both stone and earth, and Mississippian cultures in North America often built their mounds entirely from dirt.

It is clear from the archaeological evidence and monumental size of these structures that they were built by and for powerful rulers and leaders. The buildings were meant to honor the gods and the kings who commissioned the construction. Whether they were used as tombs or as platforms for temples, pyramids and platforms are testaments to the ingenuity of the ancient architects, engineers, and builders and also to the power and wealth of the rulers who could afford build them.


  • Computer with internet access
  • World map outline


For each of the pyramids pictured below, mark their location on a world map and discuss the following questions. You may also share your research with a presentation, or poster. On your map, create a key with symbols that designate buildings with pointed tops or flat tops.

  1. What culture built it?
  2. When was it built?
  3. What was its purpose?
  4. What about the design of the structure made it ideal for this purpose?
  5. What materials is it made of?
  6. How high is it and what are the dimensions of the base?
  7. Are there any connections between the material used and the height of the structures? How could you represent this graphically?
  8. How were the sides and tops shaped? Stepped or smooth? Pointed or flat?
  9. From how far away was the material brought?
  10. What is the climate like where the pyramid was constructed?
  11. How has climate affected the pyramid since it was constructed?

NGSS Connections

Science & Engineering Practices - Analyzing and interpreting data

Disciplinary Core Ideas - Earth and Human Activity

Crosscutting Concepts - Structure and Function