Sneak Peek: Unpacking The Maya Exhibit At Cincinnati Museum Center

Mar 9, 2020

Workers are carefully unpacking and arranging centuries-old artifacts at the Cincinnati Museum Center ahead of Friday's opening of Maya: The Exhibition.

More than 300 objects representing daily life, religion, innovations, politics and more are on loan from Guatemala, including jewelry, clay figurines, stone carvings and slabs, and even two-ton stella (standing stones). It's billed as "the most incredible collection of real artifacts ever to leave Central America."

After an item is removed from its packing, it is inspected by a museum center curator and someone from the lending institution to ensure items arrive and leave in the same condition.

Specialists move an altar stone into place and begin removing the protective wrapping.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

"It's the first time that these artifacts are going to be seen in the United States," says Elizabeth Pierce, Cincinnati Museum Center CEO. "They are breathtaking; they are unbelievably important to world culture and world history, and I think people are going to be blown away by the artistry and the detail."

The Maya civilization was at its peak in 600 AD but dates back to 2000 BC, spread across modern day Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

Maat Manninen, Cincinnati Museum Center registrar (left) and Victor Mendoza with the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, inspect the piece to ensure its condition.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

"The interesting thing about the Maya is that we've learned so much about them in the last 10 or 15 years," Dave Duszynski, vice president of featured experiences at Cincinnati Museum Center, told WVXU in January. "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."

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.

Cautiously lifting a modeled stucco bust into place. The head portrays a ruler of Cancuen, Guatemala.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

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.