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September 2, 2014, 8:01 am

Penn exhibit puts focus on Maya calendar

Did the Maya believe the world would end in December 2012? In recent years, the media have been filled with claims that the ancient Maya predicted a cataclysmic event at the end of their calendar. Some believe that a celestial alignment will bring a series of devastating natural disasters. Others argue that this event will bring enlightenment and a new age of peace. As December 2012 draws closer, new predictions continue to emerge.

So, what did the Maya really believe? With “MAYA 2012: Lords of Time,” the Penn Museum confronts the current fascination with the year 2012, comparing predictions of a world-transforming apocalypse with their supposed origins in the ancient Maya civilization. The exhibition features more than 150 remarkable objects and is presented in partnership with the Instituto Hondureño de Antropologia e Historia of the Republic of Honduras. In addition to impressive, Classic Maya art and artifacts excavated at Copan, and towering replicas of exceptional ancient Maya monuments, the exhibition features interactive experiences that invite visitors to explore ancient and contemporary Maya.

“’MAYA 2012’ offers visitors a rare opportunity to view spectacular examples of Classic Maya art — some of which have never before been seen outside Honduras — and delve into the Maya people’s extraordinary, layered, and shifting concepts about time,” noted exhibition Curator Dr. Loa Traxler, an archaeologist who excavated at the site of Copan from 1989 through 2003.

The ancient Maya civilization has long fascinated scholars and the public alike. For 2,000 years, the Maya flourished in southern Mexico and parts of Central America, their grand cities featuring temple pyramids, palaces, ball courts and intricately carved stone monuments bearing royal portraits and a complex hieroglyphic script. They excelled in art, architecture, astronomy and mathematics — developing a calendar system that amazes and intrigues to this day. The Maya’s complex, interlocking calendar systems, which were based on an advanced understanding of astronomy and the night sky, are simply fascinating. Their most elaborate system, the Long Count, encompasses trillions of years and one of its important cycles comes to a close on December 23, 2012 (some scholars say December 21, 2012). This is the origin of the Maya 2012 “end of the world” phenomenon.

“Regardless of what some may say about the December 2012 Phenomenon, the people of Honduras are certain that this year provides us a unique opportunity to share a part of our history and culture with the world,” said Dr. Norma Cerrato, minister counselor of legal affairs, Embassy of Honduras. “Even though they abandoned this city many centuries ago, the legacy of the Maya lives on in Copa Ruinas today. It lives in the smiles of the people who live and work in this small town surrounded by ancient stories and tropical rainforests. It lives in the knowledge and fascination that hundreds of thousands of tourists experience every year. The Government of Honduras and the University of Pennsylvania have been working together to explore the wonders of Copna for almost three decades. MAYA 2012: Lords of Time is a celebration of this collaboration.”

“MAYA 2012: Lords of Time” is on exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum from May 5th through January 13, 2013. Porfirio Lobo Sosa, president of the Republic of Honduras, joins Penn Museum Director Richard Hodges to cut the ribbon and open the exhibition to the public at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 5. An Opening Weekend Celebration, co-sponsored by the Mexican Cultural Center, features Mayan and Central American music, dance, weaving and craft demonstrations, and family craft activities in the Museum Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Timed tickets to the exhibition (includes admission to the Museum) are on sale by phone (888) 695-0888) or through the Museum’s website (


Contact Tribune Staff Writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .