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Exploring “The Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed” Exhibit

Basic Information

  • Name: Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed
  • Where: Denver Museum of Nature & Science
  • Cost: $22 adult non-member
  • More Information: Museum website

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Narrative

My family and I are big fans of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.  We have renewed our membership annually and have checked out every special exhibit they have had over the past three years.  The current special exhibit they have on display is the Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed.  This exhibit provided a really interesting look into the history and culture of the ancient Mayans.  I watched a number of Mayan documentaries on Netflix just to prepare for this visit.  As the below map shows the Maya civilization (250-900 AD) came well before the Aztec civilization and never had any contact with Europeans despite what Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto claimed:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

The displays within the exhibit try to present a chronological history of this great civilization.  The displays I found to be nicely presented and very informative:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

The first thing visitors see when they walk into the exhibit are these two replicas of large pillars with very detailed Maya artwork:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

According to the display the Maya used these pillars to write political proclamations on to support the rule of the King.  This next picture shows the detailed artwork that went into the crafting of these carved stone pillars:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Besides carving pillars the Maya artisans were also very skilled at carving the likeness of their rulers in stone such as this one that depicts a Mayan King:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Here is another example of the skilled stone carvers the Mayans employed to create these pieces of art:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

This next example of the skills of their stone artisans is of the God of Maize which is the most important deity in the Mayan religion:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

This next stone marker depicts a lost Maya city along the Mexico and Guatemala border that has never been found:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Here is a display that shows what clothes some Maya would have wore:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Here is an example of exquisite cups that wealthy Maya would have used:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

The codices the Maya used to transcribe their knowledge is something I found extremely fascinating:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Most of the codices were sadly destroyed by the Spanish clergy when they arrived in the Americas and explored ancient Mayan sites.  It took many centuries before people could read the Mayan script on what few codices remained.  PBS Nova had a fascinating program I highly recommend watching called Cracking the Mayan Code that explores the interesting history of how the Mayan language was finally deciphered.  The codices I found most interesting on display were those with astronomical observations:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

The Maya did not really understand what the sun, moon, and stars were, but through centuries of observation could very accurately predict where they would be in the sky at any time to include eclipses.  The Maya rulers used this knowledge for planting and harvesting as well as using the prediction of eclipses to show the favor of the Gods on their rule.

Next here is a display that shows little figurines depicting Mayan heroes that could be found in some of the codices:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

This next display shows a jade mosaic mask that was not meant to be worn, but instead hung from the belt of an important person:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Another very interesting display is one that shows the re-creation of a royal building that had well preserved murals that depicted how dynastic successions worked during Mayan times:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Dynastic succession it was found involved of course a lot of celebrations and ceremonies, but it also involved the ruler leading troops into battle and then torturing and sacrificing captives:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Additionally members of the royal family would then cut themselves open and shed their own blood as well in honor of the new ruler:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Another display showed what medicine was like during the Maya period.  Here is an example of the tools a dentist would use on patients to include one that drills holes in a tooth for cosmetic purposes:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

In fact the Maya had many other things they would do to their bodies for cosmetic reasons to include flattening their foreheads:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Just like in modern times, expensive clothes and jewelery were highly sought after items to show ones status as well:

Picture from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Conclusion

Overall my family and I really enjoyed visiting the Mayan exhibit.  Like all the other exhibits we have been to at the museum this one was well done and very informative.  For those with young kids like mine though, there were few things to do at the exhibit to keep their attention.  For example they did have a display where they can learn to write their Mayan name.  Another display helps them figure out what their birthday is on the Mayan calendar.  Overall though this exhibit is geared towards adults so my wife ended up quickly going through the exhibit and taking my kids over to other areas of the museum they like while I more closely explored the exhibit.  My kids though did enjoy the Maya themed planetarium movie we watched which I highly recommend to everyone to see after visiting the exhibit.  I can definitely say I am much more knowledgeable and impressed by the Mayan culture than I was before visiting this exhibit.  The exhibit ends on August 24, 2014 so I highly recommend everyone check it out while there still is time.

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