University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Athropology

Region: Mesoamerica


The Excavation of the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The ancient Maya city of Copan is a jewel of a ruin, a beautifully proportioned city situated in a verdant valley, comprised of soaring temples and enclosed courtyards, and adorned with intricately carved stelae. Within the site stands a unique monument of the ancient world, the Hieroglyphic Stairway of Temple 26, completed in 755 CE. […]


From the Editor – Spring 2012

Maya 2012: Myth and Reality

By: Jane Hickman

Travel through 4,000 years of Mesoamerican history with the Penn Museum in this special expanded edition of Expedition magazine. This issue was created to complement MAYA 2012: Lords of Time, a major new exhibition that opens at the Penn Museum on May 5, 2012 and runs through January 13, 2013. We are the only East […]


The Modern Maya and Recent History

By: Richard M. Leventhal and Carlos Chan Espinosa and Cristina Coc

The Maya are generally thought of in relation to their distant past—a past of great cities with towering stone pyramids rising up out of dense jungle. Exploring further, one encounters a complicated writing system, beautiful pottery, carved stelae, and elaborate ceremonies and rituals. Indeed, the history of the Maya began in ancient times ca. 2000 […]


Maya Calendars

An Overview

By: Simon Martin

To read any Maya date one must first understand their numerical system. Unlike the ten Arabic symbols we use (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9) the Maya employed just three symbols: a dot for one, a bar for five, and one of three different signs for zero. Individual dots were […]


New Discoveries about the Ancient Maya

Excavations at Nakum, Guatemala

By: Jarosław Zrałka and Wiesław Koszkul

Deep in the jungle of northeastern Guatemala, in the Department of the Petén, lies a Maya site that has only recently revealed its place in the early history of the region. A new excavation at Nakum by Polish archaeologists has uncovered an intact royal tomb from the Late Classic Period (ca. 600–800 CE) and important […]


Maya Home and Hearth

From the Archives

By: Elin C. Danien

  Robert Burkitt, who was Penn Museum’s “man in Guatemala” from 1912 to 1937, had an insatiable curiosity bout all things Maya. This went beyond his interest as an archaeologist or his desire as a linguist to understand and record the highland Mayan languages. Although not a trained cultural anthropologist, he was interested in the […]


“Who Shall be Our Sustainer?”

Sacred Myth and the Spoken Word

By: Allen J. Christenson

Nearly all contemporary highland Maya ceremonies and mythic tales focus on creation, or how things first came to be. How a thing began its existence determines to a large extent its purpose and relevance in the present. The world in which the Maya live is difficult, sometimes cruel. It is a source of great hope […]


Bullfights in Mayaland

How Rural Yucatecans Reinvented "Death in the Afternoon"

By: Allan Meyers

The “lover of the bullfight,” Ernest Hemingway once observed, is “one who has this sense of the tragedy and ritual of the fight.” The colorful, if controversial, pastime with all its ritual and tragedy has been a cornerstone of Spanish culture for centuries. And like so many other customs, Spaniards exported it to Mexico in […]


Out of the Past and Into the Night

Ancient Mythical Dwarfs in Modern Yucatan

By: Judith A. Storniolo

In his book, The Maya’s Own Words, Thomas Ballantine Irving translates a passage in the Popol Vuh, the creation myth of the K’iche’ Maya, regarding a creation of beings prior to humans identified as dwarfs. Creation narratives told in Yucatan also tell of a world, before the present, when the gods fashioned a race of […]


Painted Metaphors

Politics and Pottery of the Ancient Maya

By: Elin C. Danien

Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya features a unique collection of Maya artifacts, including the Chama polychrome ceramic cylinders, excavated by Robert Burkitt for Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum) almost one hundred years ago. It tells the story of the ancient Maya as witnessed by the villagers in the backcountry of Guatemala’s Alta […]