One of the best things about the Penn Museum’s “Maya 2012: Lord of Time” exhibition is the manner in which the curators meld the ancient, the mathematical, the historic, and the modern to answer the question “Will the world end at the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar in December 2012?”
The exhibition is built around the spectacular work that Penn’s archeological teams have done for decades in Copan, an ancient Mayan city located in today’s Honduras not far from the Guatemalan border – excavating tombs, uncovering clues to the succession of rulers, and figuring out exactly what all the once-cryptic hieroglyphics tell us. Check out the Flickr photos.
It turns out that the rulers kept a tight rein on the calendar, astronomic phenomenon, and various time-counting cycles to assert their right to rule. As some of the most spectacular stele show, the stone monuments actually enabled kings to embody dates, such as October 21, 731 (Copan Stele A).
The towering Quirigua Stele C from Guatemala associates the ruler with December 29, 775, the last time that the calendar flipped to the number 126.96.36.199 to signal the end of the Long Count.
There are many beautiful altars, sculptures, and pieces from the Penn’s collection, but the curators also went further, including the famous Dresden Codex, the Popol Vuh, and a phenomenal digital blow-up of a map showing how and where the Aztecs and Spaniards brought down the Maya. But one of the best contributions to the show are the video interviews with contemporary Maya commenting on their still-thriving culture and debunking the worries of their global neighbors about events later this month.
It’s obvious the view that Penn is taking, since the show is scheduled to run through January 13, 2013. Here’s Penn’s YouTube preview: