The world of ancient Maya culture has returned to our time, to our locale, for Cincinnati communities to experience in a way that’s never been done before.
Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) brings us yet another captivating exhibit in the form of “Maya: The Exhibition.” The experience, which opened in March, runs through Sept. 7. With over 300 artifacts from two renowned organizations in Guatemala — the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and the La Ruta Maya Conservation Foundation — “Maya: The Exhibition” introduces a new and expanded view of the Maya people and their culture.
Within the past 20 years, there have been new developments to help expand and excel ancient Maya research and discoveries. “We are now able to understand the Maya writing in quite a bit of detail. The Maya were historians. They documented things on stone, and we have a lot of those stone artifacts in the exhibit. And now that we can read their hieroglyphs, we can date things very accurately,” says Dave Duszynski, CMC’s vice president of featured experiences.
One of the most crucial developments: visitors will experience and absorb this vast knowledge of the Maya people through glimpses into their ancient cities and culture. These glimpses come in the form of interpreted stone artifacts with hieroglyphics and other carvings, artifacts created from the mineral jade and pieces made from gold, from a time when Western influence trickled into the Maya culture.
“We’re beginning to piece together some reasons why we think [the large cities were abandoned] and part of that is understanding just how big those cities were,” Duszynski continues. “By using a modern technique known as LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging), [we] can map the ancient cities in much greater detail and give better estimates of how many people actually lived in these cities, and begin to understand how they managed water and how they managed their croplands.”
Duszynski marks a cave painting as one of his favorite artifacts. “It’s the only traveling cave painting in the world. It dates back to 400 A.D. The story is interpreted in the exhibit. This is truly a prized artifact.”
The Layout of “Maya: The Exhibition” highlights the color and design elements that were typical of the Maya people during their peak period. Visitors are in for a treat as many of these artifacts haven’t been outside Guatemala.
“Guatemala has been gracious in exposing the artifacts and story of the Maya to the rest of the world,” Duszynski says. “If you were to see a Maya exhibit similar to ours 20 years ago, you wouldn’t get any of this story about what was really going on in these cities beyond the central temples.”
CMC has partnered with the University of Cincinnati to create an additional part of the exhibit that highlights local research into ancient Maya culture.
“Cincinnati Museum Center is always committed to having a local connection with their exhibits to help visitors relate to the things they are learning about or seeing,” says Dr. Sarah Jackson, field archaeologist and professor of anthropology at UC. “We were really excited that the CMC wanted to highlight that there’s all of this awesome Maya research going on here at UC.
“One of the cool things about this is the breadth of understanding of the past and the different things we can learn. Our part of the exhibit helps visitors learn about the many kinds of questions we can ask about the past and the different kinds of evidence we can use.”
Visitors get to glimpse into a material culture 5,000 years in the making to discover new and significant interpretations of the past. “[We are] lucky to have these artifacts,” Jackson shares. “I could not believe these artifacts that I’ve seen in a museum in Guatemala have made the big trip to North America.”
Duszynski, along with the rest of the dedicated people who have brought this exhibit to life, want to leave visitors with several key takeaways.
“The Maya understanding of science, mathematics and astronomy was equal to or greater than other world cultures at the time,” Duszynski points out. “And it was a sophisticated agricultural society that had a complex water and land management system that they developed and utilized, which was critical to them for having such large populations concentrated in a crazy place to build a huge city.”
Along with this immersion into the peak period of the ancient Maya, the exhibit will inform visitors of the present Maya community. “The Maya culture and population has never ceased to exist,” Duszynski says. “Part of the exhibit is to celebrate the fact that the Maya people still exist, and are still a vibrant community. So, there is a gallery featuring the Maya today.”
Cincinnati Museum Center is located at 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45203. For more information, call 513.287.7000 or visit cincymuseum.org