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Maya:Hidden World Revealed

The  Museum Of Science opened their new exhibitMaya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, this week, and we stopped by to take a peak. Life-size replicas of sculpted monuments, never-before-seen real artifacts from digs, interactive kiosks, and immersive environments help bring this ancient civilization to life.

Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed investigates numerous questions surrounding the Maya and offers a glimpse of daily life through the eyes of the powerful rulers and their subjects. The exhibit explores the rise of the Maya people, the evolution of their complex culture, and the eventual decline of their remarkable civilization. The exhibit features more than 250 artifacts, dozens of interactive components, and re-createdenvironments that immerse visitors in Maya culture.

We were particularly taken by the large sculpted momuments (stelae) covered in Maya glyphs. These were typically erected in the great plazas of Maya cities. The projected overlays help visitors see the similarity and differences in the Maya glyphs. In the image below the 2×2 set of glyphs at the top are similar and all represent the number “0.” The differences are for visual embellishment only, perhaps like our number “zero” with a slash through it and without.

Through this exhibit we learned quite a bit about the Maya culture, such as:

  • The people of Maya culture first settled in Belize between 2000 and 1200 B.C.
  • The Maya perceived their universe as having three levels: the heavens, the earth, and the underworld.

  • To the ancient Maya, no stone was more precious than jade. Its light green color represented all that nourished life on earth.
  • Maya villages ranged in size and complexity. Some may have had only a few hundred people, some as many as 100,000.

  • Today, impressive gray stone buildings fill Maya sites. Centuries ago, though, these sites were teeming cities, and these same structures gleamed white with painted brilliant colors, especially red and white, and they embellished pyramids, palaces, and temples. Projectors superimpose those colors onto recreated structures to give visitors a feel for how they would have looked back in those ancient days.

  • The Maya practiced various forms of personal beautification, from tattooing and face painting to scarification and dental and cranial modification.
  • The ancient Maya were probably victims of their own success. The increasing population created may have created huge drains on local natural resources, forcing them to move into neighboring regions.
  • More than six million Maya still inhabit Guatemala, Belize and the Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Chiapas.

Dr. William Saturno, PhD, currently an Assistant Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, was on hand that evening to answer questions about some of the exhibits, his work, and his discoveries.

In March 2001, while exploring in northeastern Guatemala for Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Dr. Saturno discovered the remote archaeological site of San Bartolo and the oldest intact murals ever found in the Maya world. Talk about a real life Indiana Jones!!!

Throughout the exhibit, interactive kiosks offer visitors the opportunity to decipher ancient symbol, explore tombs and investigate the Maya approach to math and astronomy.

We especially enjoyed the one where we got to  pick our own Maya name by combining different glyphs. The kiosk helpfully pronounced our “new” names for us and then printed the glyphs as a take away. Much fun!!!

The exhibit opened last Sunday (Oct 12th) and will run until…you know something? They didn’t say! Still, check it out. It is amazing. BTW, our Maya names? Star Shield (Ek’ Pakal) and Princess Jaguar (Ix Bahlam)…use your Klingon inflections when trying to pronounce them. We’ll leave it to the readers to figure out who’s who 🙂

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