PHILADELPHIA, PA—Did the Maya believe the world would end in December 2012?
With MAYA 2012: Lords of Time—a world premiere exhibition—the Penn Museum confronts the current fascination with the year 2012, comparing predictions of a world-transforming apocalypse with their supposed origins in the ancient Maya civilization. The exhibition is presented in partnership with the Instituto Hondureño de Antropologia e Historia of the Republic of Honduras, opened May 5, and runs through January 13, 2013.
MAYA 2012 leads visitors on a journey through the Maya’s time-ordered universe, expressed through their intricate calendar systems, and the power wielded by their divine kings, the astounding “lords of time.” Visitors explore the Maya world through a range of interactive experiences and walk among sculptures and full-sized replicas of major monuments while uncovering the truth behind these apocalyptic predictions.
The exhibition features more than 150 remarkable objects, including artifacts recently excavated by Penn Museum archaeologists at the site of Copan, Honduras, and on loan from the Instituto Hondureño de Antropologia e Historia. Visitors follow the rise and fall of Copan, moving across the centuries to discover how Maya ideas about time and the calendar have changed up to the present day. Contemporary Maya speak to their own heritage and concerns for the future.
“MAYA 2012 offers visitors a rare opportunity to view spectacular examples of Classic Maya art—some of which have never before been seen outside Honduras—and delve into the Maya people’s extraordinary, layered, and shifting concepts about time,” noted Exhibition Curator Dr. Loa Traxler. “MAYA 2012: Lords of Time uncovers a history and culture far richer and more surprising than commonly supposed.”
Dr. Traxler, Mellon Associate Deputy Director of the Penn Museum and co-author of The Ancient Maya, (Sixth Edition, 2006), is an archaeologist who excavated at the site of Copan from 1989 through 2003. Simon Martin, Associate Curator of the Museum’s American Section and a leading Maya epigrapher, is co-curator of the exhibition.
What is the 2012 Phenomenon?
In recent years, the media have been filled with claims that the ancient Maya predicted a cataclysmic event at the end of their calendar. Some believe that a celestial alignment will bring a series of devastating natural disasters. Others argue that this event will bring enlightenment and a new age of peace. As December 2012 draws closer, new predictions continue to emerge. But what did the Maya really believe?
The Maya and their Calendar
The ancient Maya civilization has long fascinated scholars and the public alike. For 2,000 years, the Maya flourished in southern Mexico and parts of Central America, their grand cities featuring temple pyramids, palaces, ball courts, and intricately carved stone monuments bearing royal portraits and a complex hieroglyphic script. They excelled in art, architecture, astronomy, and mathematics—developing a calendar system that amazes and intrigues to this day.
The exhibition invites the visitor to explore the ancient Maya’s complex, interlocking calendar systems, which were based on an advanced understanding of astronomy and the night sky. Their most elaborate system, the Long Count, encompasses trillions of years, and one of its important cycles comes to a close on December 23, 2012 (some scholars say December 21, 2012). This is the origin of the Maya 2012 “end of the world” phenomenon.
Highlights of this section include an immersive re-creation of a Maya pyramid, and opportunities to create your own Maya name in hieroglyphs and to calculate your birthdate within the Maya calendar.
Copan and the Lords of Time
The ancient Maya believed that their kings were embodiments of time. At the site of Copan, Honduras, a dynasty of 16 kings ruled for nearly four centuries, from 426 to after 800 CE. Discoveries from recent excavations—including work by Penn Museum archaeologists—provide new insights and remarkable artifacts to tell the story of these lords and their unique understanding, and use, of time. Tunneling deep under the pyramids of Copan, archaeologists uncovered the tomb of the founder of the Copan dynasty, “Radiant First Quetzal Macaw.” The exhibition features jade jewelry and sophisticated ceramic vessels that accompanied the king on his journey into the Underworld.
Several important artifacts too massive to travel outside Honduras have been reproduced at full scale using state-of-the-art laser scanning technology. These include the historically significant Altar Q, the ultimate symbol of the Copan dynasty that carries portraits of all 16 kings, and the Margarita Panel, a vibrantly painted architectural panel featuring the emblematic name of Copan’s first ruler, shown as two elegantly entwined birds.
In all, 75 Classic period Maya artifacts excavated at Copan are featured. An interactive multimedia touch-table allows visitors to explore the extraordinary tunnels and tombs under the pyramids at Copan, using the actual drawings and images from the archaeologists who first uncovered them.
The “Lost” History of the Maya
The fall of divine kings and the abandonment of a great number of Maya cities are referred to as the Maya “Collapse.” This exhibition connects the missing pieces of the Maya story following its still mysterious decline, taking visitors to the present day. The Maya did not disappear. Today, more than seven million Maya, speaking a variety of Mayan languages, live in Central America and Mexico, with more Maya people living around the globe.
Many aspects of Maya culture were lost during the Spanish Conquest. Only four Maya books remain from this period. Two reproductions, the Dresden and Madrid Codices, are partnered with an extremely rare manuscript written just after the Conquest, revealing the extent to which Maya concepts of time were altered. Fine ethnographic textiles and 20th century folk art masks from the Penn Museum’s own collection lead the visitor to meet the Maya in the contemporary world.
Throughout the exhibition, visitors are able to “meet” experts on the ancient Maya to hear their perspectives through a series of interviews. In the final section of the exhibition, several Maya people speak for themselves, sharing their perspectives on the end of the world predictions—and on the contemporary concerns of the Maya.
MAYA 2012: Lords of Time is made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, and lead support from The Annenberg Foundation and the Selz Foundation. Mrs. Louis Madeira IV, in honor of Dr. Peter D. Harrison, and A. Bruce and Margaret Mainwaring are Partnering Underwriters. Martha M. Duran and Luis Fernandez, the Mexican Society of Philadelphia, and Renee and Carlos Nottebohm are Supporting Underwriters. Aker Shipyard, The Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation, Annette Merle-Smith, PNC Foundation, and the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation are Education Partners. Host Hotels and Resorts is the Hotel Partner. Global Arena is the Language Services Partner. NBC 10, the Philadelphia Inquirer and philly.com, and Al Dia News Media, are Media Partners.
TICKET AND TOUR INFORMATION for MAYA 2012: Lords of Time:
General admission timed tickets (includes admission to the rest of the Museum) for individuals are available for purchase online now.
Tickets are on sale at www.penn.museum/2012, or by phone: (888) 695-0888.
Museum hours during the MAYA 2012: Lords of Time exhibition are Tuesday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; Wednesday, 10:00 am to 8:00 pm; and Thursday through Sunday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Individuals and groups can sign up to receive update emails about MAYA 2012.
About the Penn Museum
A visit to the internationally renowned University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 South Street on Penn’s campus in Philadelphia, is a journey through time and across continents—under one roof. Three gallery floors feature materials from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia, the ancient Mediterranean World, the Americas, and Africa. Amenities include inner gardens, two shops, and the glass-enclosed Pepper Mill Café, operated by Restaurant Associates.
Founded in 1887, Penn Museum is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Over its history, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage. For general information: www.penn.museum, or (215) 898-4000.
Captions (Top image): This modeled-clay lid to a censer, or incense burner, is one of 12 ceramic lids that features portraits of Copan kings. It shows the distinctive "goggles" that identify the Copan founder Yax K'uk' Mo'. (28" T x 16" W x 15") Photo: Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History. (Center image) Dr. Robert Sharer, Director of the Penn Museum’s Early Copan Acropolis Program (1989 to 2003), working in the Hunal Tomb, examines the bones of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ the Founder of the dynasty of Copan. Dr. Sharer uncovered this tomb deep under a pyramid structure in Copan, Honduras.Photo courtesy: Kenneth Garrett.(Bottom image): The Margarita Panel, ca. 450 CE, is a modeled-stucco building façade. It features an emblematic hieroglyph naming the Copan royal founder Yax K'uk' Mo'. It consists of two entwined birds: a quetzal bird (k'uk') and scarlet macaw (mo'), with crest elements that spell the initial part of the name yax "New/First." MAYA 2012 features a replica of the Margarita Panel, discovered by a Penn Museum-led excavation team in the 1990s. Photo: Kenneth Garrett.