The ancient Maya tamed time. They could reckon dates far into the past and into the future by using cycles of the moon, the sun, and the planet Venus. More than a thousand years ago, they carved important dates, names of their rulers, and ceremonial events in their hieroglyphic writing on stone monuments in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The huge Maya monuments displayed in the Rotunda Gallery are casts of the originals from Quirigua, a site in Guatemala. The casts were made for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and have been on display since then, except during World War II, when the Navy turned the Museum into a hospital. Today these casts are studied by researchers who are tracing the history of the Maya through their hieroglyphic writing. The Museum’s casts are in better condition than the originals, which have suffered some weathering and erosion in the 95 years since the casts were made.
The current exhibition includes a 42-foot-wide mural of a rainforest set in the time after the Maya Classic Period (C.E. 250-900), when the great ceremonial centers became overgrown by the jungle. In the center of the mural is the lofty ceiba tree, the sacred model for the Maya cosmos. Brilliant birds, and animals such as monkeys and jaguars, are represented, as well as elements from many Maya sites.
Countless San Diegans, tourists, scholars, and students have been awed and inspired by the skill and artistry of the ancient Maya. A frequent misconception is that the Maya no longer exist. Not so—their descendants continue to carry on many of the traditions and cultural traits of their ancestors through their weaving, woodcarving, and ceramics. The Museum’s conservation of the monumental casts offers us an opportunity to present the Maya as a cultural continuum.
Financial support is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.
For more information visit http://www.museumofman.org/exhibits