Photo Gallery | Maya Exhibit Continues to Fascinate State Museum Guests
If you’re reading this, then you know that the Maya calendar’s prediction that the world would end Dec. 21, 2012 was wrong. Right?
“Wrong," said South Carolina State Museum Curator of History JoAnn Zeise. “Although it has been popularly reported that way – and we’ve had fun with it ourselves – the Maya ‘Long Count’ calendar didn’t actually predict that the world would end on Dec. 21. It merely stopped on that day, just as our yearly calendars stop on Dec. 31.”
And just as our calendars start over on Jan. 1, so would the Maya calendar, had their calendar makers – probably priests - bothered to continue the calendar. But since the Long Count went for approximately 5,126 years, the ancient Mayas probably thought their work was sufficient for a while – which it certainly was.
The calendar (there were four, of various lengths, used by the Maya) is only one of the many fascinating aspects of this ancient society that have been, and continue to be, enjoyed by guests in the State Museum’s latest blockbuster exhibit Secrets of the Maya.
More than 125 artifacts, some dating back many centuries, illustrate the mysterious culture of these advanced Indians. Spear points, bowls, musical instruments, incense burners and more show how these people lived, worked and worshipped.
“One of the many interesting parts of the Maya culture is the death rituals,” said Zeise. “The Maya would bury their dead with grave offerings and personal belongings. Objects would be ‘killed’ in order to travel to the afterlife with their owners.
“For example, they would often place a plate over the face of the deceased. In the middle of the plate they drilled a hole, called the ‘kill hole,’ to kill the plate, or so that the spirit of the deceased could exit the body through the hole.”
The Maya also had many gods, and the paintings they used to decorate their bowls, plates and other items depict some of these deities.
As may be expected of accurate calendars keepers, the Maya were excellent astronomers – and perhaps astrologers, as well. “The Maya made various important decisions about their lives based on the stars and planets,” said Zeise.
“Warfare was one of those occasions. As images of the War Serpent, a feathered serpent with some characteristics of the jaguar, began to appear in their art, the Maya began to decide when to fight depending on the cycles of the planets Venus and Jupiter. The rising of Venus in the west marked a propitious time to make war in their thinking.”
Examples of weaponry found in the exhibit include stone spear points, knife blades, a reproduction sacrificial knife and a fearsome-looking obsidian-edged club. “Enemies feared this deadly weapon,” said Zeise.
In addition to the artifacts, guests may see a reproduction Maya hut, examples of hieroglyphic writing used by the Maya, photographs of modern-day Maya and examples of masks and clothing made by them.
Admission to Secrets of the Maya is $15 for adults, $13 for senior citizens and $11 for ages 3-12, and includes general museum admission. South Carolina students in groups are admitted to the exhibit for $5.
Tickets can be purchased, and information can be found, on the museum’s Web site, southcarolinastatemuseum.org.