Contrary to popular belief, Mayan people still live in Mexico and Central America — in fact, there are 7 million.
“Not only from archaeology can we learn about the Maya, we can learn directly from their descendants,” said Michele Koons, lead curator for the new Maya exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
“Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed” runs through Aug. 24 at the museum, 2001 Colorado Blvd., and spotlights the classic period of the civilization, which was about 250 to 900 A.D.
“It’s a really exhaustive and comprehensive exhibit of the cultures,” Jennifer Moss Logan, one of the lead educators for the exhibit said.
Logan was one of the DMNS staff who visited Belize to experience the culture firsthand. DMNS worked with the Science Museum of Minnesota, Museum of Science in Boston and the San Diego Natural History Museum to create the exhibit, which Logan and Koons said was the largest exhibit about the ancient Maya to ever be displayed in the United States.
The exhibit spans two gallery spaces, the Phipps Gallery and the newly opened Anschutz Gallery, for a total of 20,000 square feet. The exhibit features more than 250 authentic artifacts, including a jade mosaic mask, an urn, pottery vase and bowl. There are recreation of full size stone monuments and an underworld cave where the Maya confronted the gods.
Visitors can interpret hieroglyphics and create their own Maya name, and decipher stone carvings from the Chiapas region of Mexico.
“They had a complex writing system that is still in many ways being deciphered,” Koons said.
People can conduct a virtual excavation and interpret their finds, Logan said, “You can do that without getting your fingers dirty.”
There is a section of the exhibit dedicated to astronomy that describes how and why the Maya charted and predicted astronomical phenomena. Koons said despite the modern day hysteria about the Maya calendar in 2012, the calendar didn’t end but just flipped over.
“They never saw it as the end of the world,” she said, adding that the exhibit does not touch on the modern-day interpretation of the calendar. “We didn’t want to dilute what the great achievements were for the Maya.”
The Gates Planetarium is showing “Maya Skies,” which is a nice complement to the exhibit.
The exhibit will host some special Maya-themed events in March, including “A Royal Party,” an adult-only event where visitors can play the Maya ball game, create art and mingle with the experts at 7 p.m. March 6 (tickets are $38 for members, $43 for non-members). Activities include live dance performances, artists showing off their craft and various Maya-related activities, March 21 through April 4.