Closed Mondays

The Deep Dig

Ancient Maya and the Cosmos

Live Online

Tuesdays, Apr. 9 - 30, 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm ET

$175 General | $125 Member

Deep Dig title graphic.

Cultivate your curiosity about ancient history, exciting excavations, and cultural heritage connected to the Penn Museum's unparalleled collection and research. You’ll have access to digital readings, online archival research, and videos. Recordings of the live class will be available if you miss a session. No archaeology or anthropology background required; just bring your love for lifelong learning!

Embark on a captivating journey with Dr. Simon Martin through the mystical realms of Maya cosmology in this immersive 4-week class. Delve into the rich tapestry of ancient beliefs and mythologies that shaped the Maya civilization's understanding of the universe. Uncover the secrets of the sky, earth, and subterranean depths as you explore the deities who presided over these key domains. Explore the wisdom of the Popol Vuh, a pivotal Indigenous text, and witness how it intertwines with ancient images to illuminate fundamental Maya concepts.

Week 1: Introduction to Maya Cosmology

An initial dive into the rich world of Maya cosmology, setting out the key domains of the sky, earth, and subterranean depths, and introducing the deities who presided over them. We also begin our journey into the Popol Vuh—the most important surviving Indigenous text on pre-conquest belief—revealing how the interaction of this colonial- era document and ancient images has shed invaluable light on fundamental concepts.

Week 2: The Sustaining Tree of Life

Explore ideas about ancient Maya life, death, and the afterlife through the regeneration of plants—most especially maize. The life cycle of corn offers a rich mythology that unifies much of how the Maya perceived their existence and place within a divinely directed world. The adventures of the Maize God were that of a cultural hero, but also offered a route by which all people sought to evade the permanence of death.

Week 3: Trials in the Depths

Here we concentrate on the Maya Underworld—a dank and fearsome place that the Popol Vuh document calls Xibalba, “The Place of Fright.” This was the domain of nighttime and death, stalked by jaguars and bats, and ruled by old gods who treasured their buried riches within caverns deep inside sacred mountains.

Week 4: Kings and Cosmos

While cosmology was a worldview shared by all ancient Maya, it was one that political powers sought to harness to their own ends. The supernatural world we see in ancient Maya art was one created by the royal elite and different in outlook to the practices that still survive in more “traditional” Maya communities today.

Member Preview

March 26, 2024

7:00–7:45 pm

Members are invited to a free preview of this course. Join us for a sneak peek of the content, meet the instructor, and ask questions. Not a member? Join today.

About the Speaker

Simon Martin at an excavation site.

Simon Martin, Ph.D.

Simon Martin, Ph.D., is the Associate Curator in the American Section. A political anthropologist and specialist in Maya hieroglyphic writing. He has appeared in a number of television programs, including “Cracking the Maya Code” for NOVA/PBS and “Lost Treasures of the Snake Kings” for the National Geographic Channel.


Every session is recorded and sent via email to all registered participants. The recording will be available for 6 months following the program.