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Immerse yourself in the genius of the Maya – early disrupters living in cities of stone carved into the rainforest. By studying the stars they developed a calendar more accurate than any other in the world. Their discovery of the number zero opened the door for advanced mathematics. Rubber balls were essential to Maya sports centuries before the “discovery” of vulcanized rubber. And they introduced the world to chocolate. Theirs was a civilization of astronomers, mathematicians, inventors and gods.
For the first time in the United States, the mysteries of the Maya come to life. With nearly 300 artifacts, discover how the Maya live on today – in their inventions that continue to shape our daily lives and in the millions who carry on the Maya tradition in language and lineage.
In the tropical rainforests, the Classical Maya civilization reached improbable heights and mysteriously collapsed. The bustling ancient cities in the lowlands of Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras were abandoned. Yet, Maya culture has never disappeared. Their descendants still live across Central America and Maya communities have succeeded in preserving their identity, languages and traditions. Taking a cultural-ecological approach, Maya, gives a holistic image of Maya culture and shows how it has developed over time in relation to its environment—from its classical peak to the present.
Visitors can explore the awe-inspiring Maya architecture and astonishing cultural accomplishments in immersive exhibition spaces, decipher hieroglyphs, learn about the intricate Maya calendar or explore the ancient burial site of Uxul and, above all, get to know how this remarkably sophisticated civilization could built such complex cities in the middle of the jungle, why these cities were eventually abandoned and in what ways Maya culture has changed since then.
MAYA: The Exhibition – Now Open
Maya: The Exhibition
Welcome to MAYA
The exhibition shows when and the reasons why the Maya settled in the jungle and built their cities there. It also reveals how a large population could survive for hundreds of years in the jungle and why ultimately the Maya abandoned their cities and transformed their society.
Nearly 300 artifacts primarily date from 200 through 900 AD. Most objects have never traveled to North America. The lending institutions have one of the most important Maya collections in the world.
The intro gallery focuses closely on 23 El Peru figurines; miniature statues highlighting the Maya king and queen and their court welcome the visitor. Projection mapping and holographic smoke effects will create an engaging introduction presented around 3 Maya incense burners. The Maya lived at least 5,000 years ago, in the south of Mexico and parts of Central America. Their accomplishments mystify us. How did they grow such large cities in densely forested terrain? They built immense stone structures with no pack animals or carts to carry heavy loads. They grew enough food to feed huge populations, in spite of poor soil. They mastered writing, math, and astronomy. Aided by contemporary LIDAR technology, archaeologists are uncovering the secrets buried in the jungle. While our research is young, the culture is timeless. Today, more than six million Maya are keeping it alive.
Leaving the first gallery, the visitor is immersed into a tropical rainforest environment of the Maya jungle, nature, animals, mountains and caves. The Maya lived deep in the tropical rainforest, yet the rainforest also lived deep within them. The jungle’s diversity provided food, shelter, and the basics of life. But its plants and animals were also spiritual counterparts of the humans who shared their world.
The gallery features objects displayed dramatically in Maya pyramid architecture as this area highlights the production of food, agriculture, hunting, domesticated plants, maize. How did the Maya produce so much nutritionally rich food in such challenging soil? Over centuries, these master gardeners developed advanced methods that elude us today. They grew maize (corn), beans, and squash in small urban plots. Planting luxury crops such as cacao for trade also grew their economy.
Leaving the first gallery, the visitor is immersed into a tropical rainforest environment of the Maya jungle, nature, animals, mountains and caves. The gallery features a fragment of what is known as the Sistine Chapel fresco of the Maya: a fragment of the San Bartolo mural, along with a complete reproduction. The creation story it conveys is presented in a compelling multi-screen video presentation narrated by a contemporary Maya woman. The Maya lived deep in the tropical rainforest, yet the rainforest also lived deep within them. The jungle’s diversity provided food, shelter, and the basics of life. But its plants and animals were also spiritual counterparts of the humans who shared their world.
The exhibition architecture and environment changes at this point to reflect Maya temple architecture. This area features rituals, offerings, deities, and music as it relates to the gods. Gods were everywhere. The Maya worshiped roughly 8,000 gods, who could change gender and multiply. Any animal could take divine form. The king, part human and part deity himself, could send out his soul to communicate with the spirit world and ask the gods for help.
This section Introduces visitors to Maya languages, writing and calendar. In addition to objects illustrating these themes, there are 3 interactives illustrating the Maya calendar and Maya hieroglyphs. Visitors can enter their birth date and receive the Maya calendar equivalent via email. Script, a gift from Maya creator god Itzamnaaj, was a powerful technology. Kings used the written word to document their authority. Astronomers mapped time itself. Hieroglyphs were used for 2,500 years, but their meaning was lost when Spanish missionaries burned Maya codices (books). Scholars cracked the code only 30 years ago.
Dramatic Maya architecture provides the setting for objects that illustrate the Maya king as maize god, and illustrates the divine legitimation of power, and luxury of the royal court. Royals were more than human. After taking the throne, kings and queens became half-god, dressing in luxurious clothes and jewelry that set them apart from the common people. They were members of huge dynasties, some claiming they could trace their ancestors back 100,000 years.
At the end of the long series of temple gateways, visitors view in the distance three objects in an environment related to the Maya Ballgame. Visitors can play an Augmented Reality Ballgame. The Ball Game was part sport and part ritual —not unlike football or baseball today. Teams represented their cities as spectators cheered from the sides. Players wore padding to protect their knees, shins, and hands from being injured by the heavy ball.
Moving into dramatically lit galleries, visitors will encounter the political issues at the height of the Maya civilization. This area also features Maya queens and other historical individuals, plus the conflict between the superpowers Tikal and Calakmu. Maya politics were subject to the same forces that countries face today. Cities grew into kingdoms that competed for resources. Some rulers formed strategic alliances, but others warred. Many cities fell. Two, in particular, rose to heights never before seen. And then an era ended.
The transitional section features objects from the later stages of the Maya civilization before the Spanish conquest. Prolonged warfare destroyed a social structure that had been effective for millennia. The system of government, once so stable, began to fail. With the slaughter of royal dynasties, entire cities collapsed. Some kings survived, but the people questioned their power. After all, once god-like rulers could no longer even provide the basics of life. Around 800 AD, climate change brought long periods of drought. Farmers had no water for crops and the population, formerly so well-nourished, suffered famine. People migrated to more fertile lands and the jungle reclaimed those massive cities of stone.
The final exhibition section features objects from the Maya after the abandonment of their cities, experimenting with new forms of art and new materials. Although their cities were lost to the jungle, the Maya themselves did not disappear. Instead, they adapted to a new way of life in the highlands of Guatemala and the Yucatan peninsula. Here they prospered by trading peacefully and sharing the bounty.
The final exhibition section provides a wrap-up of the exhibition and inspiration for the visitor. While much has been discovered in the past 20 years, many mysteries of the Maya remain unsolved.
Since those first cities in the jungle, the Maya have faced numerous challenges. They have been displaced by forces of nature, politics, and industry. However, their culture lives on. Contemporary Maya speak 30 languages, all with a common root.
These Maya plant the heirloom seeds that sustained their ancestors. They create art, music, and literature. They take part in rituals that are sacred to their faith. “Kawinaq: We are still there.”
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Nikolai Grube is a professor of anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn. He has been closely associated with several archeological projects in the Maya area and is director of the excavation of Uxul in Campeche, Mexico.
Almost no other ancient society is associated with adjectives like ‘mysterious’ and ‘lost’ as often as the Maya civilization. The abandonment of large cities in the lowlands of Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras is one of the great mysteries of archaeology. However, the downfall of the big cities, with their high temples, royal palaces, public squares and wide ceremonial roads, does not mean the end of Maya culture. On the contrary, this led to the development of new forms of cultural expression.
The exhibition focuses on the continuity of the Maya culture from its classical peak to the present. It aims to show that the modern indigenous populations in Guatemala, Southern Mexico and Belize maintain a cultural continuity from pre-Hispanic times to today. The exhibition focuses on the relations of the Maya with their world and their environment.
For the first time, an exhibition takes a look at all social groups and daily life in the rainforest. This cultural-ecological perspective towards the Maya civilization is mirrored in the exhibition concept, which includes both artifacts and current interdisciplinary research. This way, the visitor will gain a holistic perspective of the Maya civilization in relation to nature and the environment.
New Union Station exhibit celebrating Mayan culture opens this week. The Kansas City Star
La exhibición Maya ya abrió sus puertas para todo el público en la union station Univision Kansas City
Union Station Only U.S. Stop for Major Maya Exhibition City Scene KC