Museum Visit: Maya 2012: Lords of Time

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Let me start off by saying, I did not think the world was going to end at the end of 2012. But, I am fascinated by indigenous cultures and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia’s University City area is one of my favorites in the city. So, despite it being the ninth day of a heat wave and the museum only having a few air conditioned galleries, we booked tickets for the museum’s current special exhibit: Maya 2012: Lords of Time.

Maya 2012: Lords of Time is supposed to be about the Mayan calendar and that, as some have suggested, it predicts the end of the world at the end of 2012. The exhibit covers the Mayan’s complicated timekeeping systems – they had multiple calendar systems. It also focuses on the dynasty that ruled over the empire and its sixteen emperors. There are a number of wonderful artifacts not related to time – such as beautifully created human figurines of stone in intricate costumes that would sit onto of incense pots, tokens placed in burial chambers and, of course, fantastic pottery, bowls and the like. For some of the large stone pieces, they had projectors intermittently project outlines of the glyphs and carvings onto the pieces so that you could see more easily, which I thought was really smart and helpful.

Most of the large pieces, however, were recreations from casts. While I understand that it’s better to leave the actual stone monuments (assuming they’re sufficiently protected from looters and being conserved for the future from weather and degradation), it was disappointing to come to a special exhibit and not get to see those key large artifacts. What’s more, the recreations weren’t exactly of the highest quality and it was easy to tell what was authentic and what was a recreation.

The exhibit also has lots of interactive features. In particular, they had a touchscreen computer where you could select and print out your Mayan name – my husband has renamed me Radiant Flower. I loved seeing the glyphs and how to pronounce them. They also had a touchscreen to create a stela, or commemorative monument, for your birth date.

Overall, the exhibit is nice but could be improved. The exhibit’s on the small side for the price, the descriptive explanations and audio guide, the latter of which came at an extra cost, aren’t the most informative and, at least for me, created some gaps that left me with questions.

I have to say, the lack of air conditioning in the museum really wasn’t a big deal. We did stop, briefly, by the Asian, Iraqi and one of the Egyptian galleries. The museum has some really ancient and beautiful pieces. It’s not the most up to date or most modern museum but the collection that they have on show is really worth seeing. A nice shiny museum’s great but not if you don’t have anything to show. And they’ve most certainly got the collection.

At the end of the Mayan exhibit, they asked visitors to cast their vote. Do you think the world is going to end in December? Yes or no. I found it funny that the slot for “no” was so full of ballots that you couldn’t get any more in. The “yes” slot was seemingly empty.

The public has spoken.

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology exterior
Maya figurines, 1
Maya figurines, 2
Maya codice
Mayan pot
Worry dolls
My Mayan Name
Are you worried the world is going to end in 2012?
UPENN Museum: Asian gallery

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