Sacred Monuments: Temples and Palaces
Ever wonder what it would be like to step into a Maya city in the Classic Period (250-900CE)? They may have been small by today’s standards, but visitors emerging from the surrounding jungle would have been awed by their size and grandeur.
A typical Maya city would include monuments to sacred rule such as temples and palaces. The exhibition invites you to explore these structures, which were almost certainly off-limits to ordinary citizens in ancient times.
The stepped pyramids are iconic symbols of the ancient Maya civilization. Some were temples dedicated to the various gods in the Maya pantheon; others were grand tombs for rulers’ mortal remains.
Nestled among a temple pyramids, the palace was the ruler’s home and the city’s administrative centre. Public access was likely confined to the palace platform, the site of various civic and sacred ceremonies
An Enigmatic Written Language
The first Europeans to visit Maya ruins in the 19th century were amazed by the writing – the glyphs – that covered the walls of the long-abandoned cities. But they had no idea what the shapes and symbols meant.
The glyphs are no less striking today, but their meaning is much better understood. In fact, a tour of the exhibition will teach you how to ‘Crack the code’.
Most Maya books were burned during the Spanish conquest and knowledge of the written language had faded away. Almost 500 years later, and after decades of research, experts can now read about 80% of the writings. Their scholarship has transformed our understanding of the ancient Maya culture. Nevertheless, many secrets remain concealed by this often-enigmatic written language.
Sacrifice and Bloodletting
The ancient Maya embraced the practice of bloodletting. The exhibition explores this mysterious and elaborate ritual in which members of the elite would pierce their own skin, splatter the blood on paper, then burn the paper during rituals.
They believed that the practice would help them contact gods and ancestors. Noble blood was considered especially potent, and rulers used bloodletting to declare their privileged connection to the sacred world.
The ceremonial slaughter of animals was a common means of appeasing the gods, or seeking their favour. For the most important events and divinations, humans were sacrificed
The Truth About the End-of-Days Prophecy
Did the ancient Maya really predict that the world would end in 2012, as some have claimed? What did they really believe? Should we prepare ourselves for a worldwide disaster this December?
To understand what the ancient Maya thought would happen in 2012, it is important to understand their sophisticated timekeeping system—particularly how they perceived the universe and the passage of time. The exhibition presents the elaborate Maya calendar, and explains where the end-of-days prophecy originates.
We may never know for sure if the Maya predicted a catastrophic end-of-days on December 23, 2012. To this day, there is no evidence of such a belief, so you should be able to leave the exhibition with a sense of relief!
The Maya of Today
When nineteenth-century explorers first visited Maya ruins, they wondered why the cities had been abandoned, and what had become of the residents. Why the people left over a thousand years ago, remains a mystery to this day. But as the exhibition reveals, we are now certain of one thing: the Maya people survived.
Their many spoken languages, ritual calendar, and physical appearance have been passed down through the generations. Today, the legacy of the ancient Maya endures, not only in the jungle ruins, but in the lives and culture of their descendants living today in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.