New Exhibit Brings 'Mysteries' Of The Maya To Cincinnati

Jan 14, 2020

An exhibit exploring the daily lives, religion, politics and sophistication of the Maya civilization is coming to the Cincinnati Museum Center March 14.

Maya: The Exhibition includes more than 300 objects from clay and stucco figurines as well as intricate jewelry, stone carvings, tools and interactive elements.

"Discoveries of the last 20 years have transformed our understanding of the people and why the great Maya cities were abandoned in the heart of Central America," says Dave Duszynski, vice president of featured experiences at Cincinnati Museum Center. "Never before has such a spectacular set of Maya artifacts traveled to North America. We are thankful that Guatemala is sharing these amazing national treasures with Cincinnati."

All of the artifacts come from Guatemala and they're all real, including some two-ton standing stones, or stela. Duszynski says that sets this exhibit apart from others like it. Museum officials traveled to Guatemala to help select some of the items.

"The interesting thing about the Maya is that we've learned so much about them in the last 10 or 15 years," Duszynski points out. "If you went to see an exhibit on the Maya 20 years ago there would be a lot of open-ended questions, but we've learned so much in the last 10 or 15 years, especially due to our ability, now, to be able to read the (Mayan) language."

The Maya civilization was at its peak in 600 AD but dates back to 2000 BC.

"Their understanding of science, astronomy and mathematics was equal to or greater than other world cultures," the museum writes in a news release. "They were early disrupters – inventors, innovators and geniuses whose accomplishments continue to shape our daily lives."

Millions of descendants in Central America speak a Mayan language, and entire regions of countries in Guatemala, Mexico and Belize strongly assert and maintain their Maya ethnic identities. The exhibit seeks to tell their stories, as well.

"The Maya civilization was never lost," says Nikolai Grube, exhibit curator and professor of anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn in Germany. "This was a very romanticized 19th century European perspective on the Maya. What was lost were the big cities in the rainforest. The Maya of today preserve many ideas, languages and forms of living of their ancestors."

Grube, Duszynski tells WVXU, calls this exhibit "the most incredible collection of real artifacts ever to leave Central America."

Also included in the experience is work being done by the University of Cincinnati at Maya sites in Central America. A companion gallery will offer interactive stations and "invites guests to consider how the strategies of Maya innovation and adaptation might apply to parallel changes we face today."

The Maya are credited with creating the most accurate calendar in the world based on studying the stars; introducing chocolate to the world; utilizing rubber balls long before vulcanized rubber was "discovered" and leading the way in advanced mathematics.

Maya: The Exhibition runs March 14 - Sept. 7, 2020.