Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World premieres at the ROM on November 19

Never-before-seen artifacts and exciting videos are showcased as the
mysterious Maya world is unveiled at the ROM

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) premieres Maya: Secrets of
their Ancient World
on Saturday, November 19, 2011. On
display in the ROM’s Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall until Monday,
April 9, 2012
, this original exhibition vibrantly brings to life
the Classic Period (250 - 900 CE) of this ancient Mesoamerican

The exhibition was unveiled to the media this morning at an event
hosted by ROM Director and CEO Janet Carding. Special guests in
attendance included the Hon. Michael Chan, Ontario’s Minister of
Tourism and Culture, His Excellency Francisco Javier Barrio Terrazas,
Ambassador of Mexico to Canada, and Ambassador Mauricio Toussaint,
Consul General of Mexico in Toronto, as well as a number of
representatives from the ROM’s collaborators, the National Institute
of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the Canadian Museum of
Civilization (CMC).

The exhibition is an international collaboration between the ROM,
INAH, and the CMC. Nearly 250 artifacts have been assembled, including
large sculptures, ceramics, masks, and jewellery, to illuminate the
relationships between the Maya ruling class and the balance of its
society. The objects also reveal numerous aspects of Maya life,
which, until the end of the 19th century, had been shrouded in
mystery. Maya city states, palace life, and rituals and beliefs,
including a timely look at what they thought would occur in the year
2012, are all examined in the exhibition.

Most of the exhibition’s objects have been selected from numerous
Mexican museums in the Yucatan Peninsula region where the Maya mainly
live, while others are of the ROM’s own renowned holdings. Prominent
institutions, including the British Museum, Princeton University Art
Museum, and Toronto’s own Gardiner Museum have also loaned artifacts.
Most of the showcased objects have never before been seen in Canada,
and many, some only recently excavated, are recognized as among the
most significant archaeological finds of the Maya civilization. Among
these is the limestone Tablet of the Warriors from Temple XVII
depicting a captured warrior kneeling in front of a king from
Palenque. Following painstaking conservation efforts by ROM and INAH
colleagues, the object’s three panels have been brought together for
the first time and make their public debut at the ROM.

Janet Carding, the ROM’s Director and CEO, states, “This ancient
culture, one of astonishing achievement. has long held deep
fascination and its allure persists to this day. The more we learn of
the Maya, the more our admiration grows. In collaboration with our
partners, the CMC and INAH, the ROM is pleased to present a collection
of notable artifacts conveying the Maya story, one that is evolving to
the present day.”

Dr. Justin Jennings, Curator of New World Archaeology in the ROM’s
World Cultures department and the ROM’s exhibition curator, says, “Our
inclusion of recently excavated artifacts from the famed city centre,
Palenque, is particularly exciting. Some of these have never before
been publicly displayed, not even in Mexico. Others rarely travel;
among these are two exquisitely carved stone doorway lintels, loaned
by the British Museum, vividly depicting the blood sacrifices
performed by Maya nobles.”

"Ontario welcomes this truly international exhibit presented at the ROM, a truly international museum! Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World will attract visitors from within our borders and beyond as audiences explore a civilization that has impacted, influenced and inspired generations," said Michael Chan, Minister
of Tourism and Culture. "The McGuinty Government commends the international collaboration and cooperation undertaken by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, the Canadian
Museum of Civilization, and the ROM for their efforts in sharing an ancient and honoured history with the people of Ontario."

Following the ROM’s engagement, the exhibition travels to the
Canadian Museum of Civilization from May 18 to October 28, 2012.


Widespread interest in the ancient Maya world first occurred in
the mid-19th century with the discovery of foliage-clad temples and
sculptures among extensive ruins at several sites in Mexico and
Central America. Since then, archaeologists have unravelled numerous
mysteries and resolved many questions regarding the Maya, even as more
take their place. The first Maya villages are known to have been
settled by approximately 1000 BCE, with sites growing in both size and
intricacy as their populations increased. By 500 BCE, the Maya world
was populated by the elaborate pyramids, intricate tombs, and other
spectacular architecture so closely associated today with the ancient

The Maya’s important artistic and intellectual achievements
reached their height during its Classic Period (250 – 900 CE). During
that time, Maya society was organized around rulers at cities such as
Calakmul, Tikal, Copán and Palenque. Unlike other ancient
civilizations such as the Aztec, the Maya civilization was never an
“empire” united by a single governing body. Instead, numerous
independent city states, sharing comparable traits, beliefs, and
practices were all considered Maya. Spread across expansive areas,
these sites were in constant conflict with one another. While the
cities’ rulers ensured that many monuments were built in their honour,
temples, plazas, and palaces were often built for the purpose of
enticing groups of people such as farmers, traders, and artisans to
inhabit or visit the city centres. Many reasons accounted for the
people’s support of Classic Maya centres; the most likely explanation
being the population’s core belief that the rulers performed duties
essential for life.

Near the beginning of the ninth century, the people’s confidence
in the rulers began to wane, with the total collapse of Classic Maya
society occurring over nearly two centuries. Sparked by
overpopulation, increasing warfare, environmental degradation and
drought, the definitive end of Maya royalty was likely fuelled by a
crisis of faith: an increasingly desperate people no longer believed
that their rulers were linked to the divine. However, significant
traits of Maya culture remain and are seen in contemporary Maya
communities. The languages spoken, the ritual calendar followed, and
their striking profiles, are among the characteristics linking today’s
Maya to their ancient ancestors.


The exhibition takes a thematic approach through seven distinct
sections: The Maya World, The City, Cosmology and Ritual, Writing
and Timekeeping, The Palace, Death
, and Collapse and
. Each area fully immerses the visitor in the Maya
environment through significant artifacts and effective presentation
techniques that dramatically recreate the environment in which the
Maya lived. Shot on location in Mexico, numerous ROM-produced videos
expand on integral themes including the deciphering of hieroglyphs;
the Classic Maya cosmos; and the persistent mysteries surrounding the
Maya Calendar Countdown to 2012.

Following a dramatic Introduction, The Maya World explores
the manners in which the people lived, farmed and hunted. It also
establishes that the Maya succeeded so well for so long by working
with, rather than against, their often challenging environment, using
a wide variety of techniques to sustain the population. The Maya are
encountered through a number of objects including a collection of
evocative stucco human heads, as well as a number of remarkable
artifacts depicting the region’s animals. A charming lidded bowl with
a duck’s head, and a ceramic whistle shaped as a bird, convey the
respect accorded animals in Maya society.

Palenque, the renowned Maya city centre is highlighted in The
, making use of a touchable scale model, maps, photos, city
site plans, murals, and a video on the archaeology at Palenque and its
recent excavation by INAH’s exhibition curator Martha Cuevas García.
The main traits of a typical Maya city are examined here, including a
palace, temple-pyramids, tombs, public spaces, as are activities such
as trade, warfare (and sacrifice), recreation, and fashion. Objects
here include a whimsical ballplayer and the haunting figure of a
captive—bringing into focus the Maya's goal of capturing an opponent
in warfare. The section also highlights an important ancient Maya
commodity: chocolate. Maya elite drank a wide variety of fermented
maize-based drinks, augmented by chocolate (cacao) during festivals.
Dated to 600 – 900 CE is a ceramic lid on which a quirky spider
monkey sits, jealously guarding the prized cacao seeds that were
likely contained in the long-gone pot.

Cosmology and Ritual highlights that ritual activities
permeated all areas of Maya life. Most cosmological forces,
significant earthly events, and religious rites were tied to deities,
to time, and to celestial movements through the Maya calendar. Many
rituals were reserved for monarchs, linking them to the gods,
relationships indispensable to societal survival. Some of these
rituals involved blood-letting, a form of auto-sacrifice to better
commune with ancestors. Among the objects displayed in this section
are large, striking incense burners, or censers, adorned with
representations of ancestral and divine persons.

Writing and Timekeeping illustrates that, while the Maya
did not invent writing or the calendar, they advanced these
disciplines to high levels of sophistication. Most inscriptions on
objects and monuments glorified rulers, commemorating significant
events in their lives. A video highlights that nearly 80% of the
Maya’s approximately 900 known signs have been deciphered, to date.
This section includes a spotlight on the Maya calendar and the
enduring 2012 end of days legend.

Courtly Life continues to explore the complex royal
lifestyle of the Classic Maya elite. The rituals of courtly life are
vividly depicted in scenes painted on ceramics, providing a rich
source of information on Maya daily life. A beautifully decorated
bowl, dated to 600 – 900 CE, portrays a person drinking at a banquet.
Celebrating events such as births, marriages, deaths, harvests, and
diplomatic alliances, these feasts showcased their organizers’ powers.
This section demonstrates the Maya rulers’ constant engaging in
rituals to justify their dominant roles in society and establish their
relationships with gods and ancestors. Imposing limestone panels,
dated to 600-900 CE, clearly illustrate these associations, combining
the past and present, the dead and living, and the natural and

In Death and Burial, a tomb-like atmosphere pervades. This
section highlights the mid-20th century revelation that many Maya
pyramid-temples were actually tombs. As in many ancient cultures, Maya
elite were buried with goods meant as offerings to assist them on
their journey into the afterlife. Discovered in these royal burials,
these extraordinary artifacts underscore the Maya belief that, for the
chosen few, death initiated a new phase of existence. Section
highlights include a funerary mask, made of jade, shell, and obsidian,
depicting a Palenque queen.

In Collapse and Survival, a broken altar and a shattered
hieroglyphic panel are both poignant reminders of the once-flourishing
culture. A limestone stela from Toniná displays the last-known Long
Count date. By the end of the ninth century, many Maya cities were in
rapid decline and the tradition of Long Count dating abruptly stopped.
This stela’s eroded front depicts the city’s last ruler, while the
glyphs on its back read or January 15, 909 CE. Soon after,
Toniná’s royal dynasty fell, its palaces and temples abandoned. Other
objects showcased include a stunning pedestal jar, unearthed in 1974
by ROM curator David Pendergast at the site of Lamanai, Belize. The
object is adorned by an effigy combining features of K’awiil, the god
of royalty, and Chaahk, the Rain God. Excavated from a pit associated
with a man’s burial, this jar, found in pieces, has been meticulously
restored by museum conservators.

The exhibition concludes with a positive message: while the
Spanish Conquest had a shattering impact on the Maya, the culture has
managed to preserve their language, land, and culture ever since.
Today, modern Maya number approximately ten million, found in present-
day Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Maya,
once again, are a vigorous culture, inspired by their ancestors’ great


Throughout the exhibition, the story of the Maya story is
dramatically conveyed by numerous ROM-produced audio-visual
. Shot on location in Mexico by a ROM team and
featuring ROM curator Dr. Justin Jennings, as well as INAH curators,
the installations expand on a number of the exhibition’s themes,
including the deciphering of hieroglyphs; the Classic Maya cosmos; and
the ongoing mysteries surrounding the Maya Calendar Countdown to 2012.

The whole family will enjoy searching for mysterious objects on
the Family Adventure Trail and discovering numerous touchable
reproductions in the exhibition. Maya-themed activities abound during
ROM for the Holidays, this year taking place daily from 11:00
am to 4:00 pm from December 26, 2011 through January 8, 2012.
Activities include Maya make-and-take crafts, creating your own rain
stick, chance encounters with a Maya High Priest, and posing in a fun
Maya-themed photo opportunity. From December 28 to 30, the SONY®
photo station offers visitors the chance to take away mementos of
themselves as the Jaguar God of the Underworld! Film and music
complete the Maya experience while Earth Rangers and their Bring
Back the Wild
live animal show and Ontario Winter
brings visitors back to a colder climate. From Friday,
January 6 at 5:00pm to 10:00am the following day, ROM Sleepover:
provides the ultimate exhibition backstage pass. After-hours
exhibition access is just one highlight of this Maya edition of the
highly popular series. A graphic novel, an engaging way to learn about
the ancient Maya, is available for downloading at Much more family programming, including for
March Break and Family Day Long Weekend, is to be announced.

Associated public programs accompany the exhibition
throughout its engagement. The Maya Distinguished Lecture
, a series of lectures delivered by leading authorities,
explores many aspects of Maya society, including its political
organization, its Royal Court, its rise and fall, and, of course, the
Maya end of days mystery of 2012. The exhibition’s sold out
lead lecture was delivered by Pulitzer Prize-winning Jared Diamond on
November 1. A presentation of the Institute for Contemporary Culture
(ICC), the sixth annual Eva Holtby Lecture on Contemporary
Culture took place on November 14 and featured Carlos Fuentes, one of
the Spanish-speaking world's most renowned novelists and essayists .

The ROM is committed to accessibility for all visitors and
has developed an Accessibility Strategy outlining the Museum’s promise
to remove barriers to participation for its visitors with varying
disabilities. Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World offers
visitors who are blind or who have vision loss the opportunity to
explore 14 touchable reproductions resembling Maya sculptures,
ceramics and masks. These include a stunning model of a coffin lid
illustrating the rebirth of Janaahb’ Pakal, a scaled model of a
Chac Mool altar, and a sample of beautiful Maya glyphs.
Braille and large font labels identify the exhibition’s touchable
reproductions. For visitors who are deaf, deafened or hard of
hearing, all narrated videos include English and French captioning.
The exhibition’s two mini-theatres are equipped with acoustical
containment. Additionally, for those visitors who use hearing aids and
cochlear implants, hearing loop technology is available for special
paid-tours upon request. For specific questions or concerns, the ROM
can be contacted at 416.586.8000 prior to visiting. For visitors who
are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, Bell Relay Service can be
reached by dialing 711 or 1.800.855.0511.

ROM Members already know that the best way to experience the
Museum is through Membership and its numerous benefits,
including free unlimited admission for members, special discounts for
shopping, dining, programs, and more at the ROM. The Maya
Member Preview, taking place on Friday, November 18, offers Members
the chance to meet and enjoy presentations by Dr. Justin Jennings,
the ROM’s exhibition curator. Later that evening, an exclusive dinner
in c5 affords ROM Members the first opportunity to sample the fare of
the Museum’s new Executive Chef Corbin Tomaszeski. For additional
information on the events or to purchase a membership, visit or call 416.586.5700.

The exhibition’s special boutique features Maya-inspired
wares, including home décor, jewellery, and the official exhibition
guide, available in both English and French. On sale for just $5, the
full colour publication includes $10 in coupons for ROM shopping and
dining. A selection of Maya wares is also carried in the ROM Museum

Family-friendly Food Studio café offers Maya-themed menu
items throughout the exhibition’s engagement and the elegant c5
Restaurant Lounge
features special menu items fusing the flavours
of Mexico and Central America with fresh local Ontario ingredients. In
the new year, with dates to be announced, the popular Green
series will feature exciting menus by visiting local
and international chefs creating fare the Maya would love.

Visitors are encouraged to partake of weekday exhibition
led by docents of the ROM's Department of Museum Volunteers
(DMV). French tours are scheduled twice a month, while Spanish-
language and private tours are available with prior arrangement.
Docent-led tours enhance an already memorable Museum experience, and
provide a deeper understanding of - and appreciation for - the
fascinating history and culture of the ancient Maya. The DMV's
ROMtravel offers Maya Civilization: Then and Now, a
unique adventure departing on January 27 through February 9, 2012, led
by ROM curator Dr. Justin Jennings. ROMtravelers will be entranced by
the fascinating architecture, spectacular archaeological treasures,
unmatched natural vistas, and regional delicacies as they explore
lively towns in Tikal, Palenque, Campeche, among others. More details
are available at or 416.586.8034.

Timed tickets to the exhibition are available at 30-minute
intervals. Admission to the exhibition at the ROM's newly lowered
prices: Adults: $25; Seniors & Students: $22.50; Children: $17;
Children 3 & under and Members: Free. Presented by Sun Life Financial,
best value ROM Friday Nights are in effect every Friday evening from
4:30 to 8:30 pm with reduced exhibition admission: Adults: $19,
Seniors & Students: $17, Children: $11. Exhibition hours are the same
as general ROM hours: daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm and Friday from
10:00 am to 8:30 pm, with last Maya entry an hour and a half prior to
Museum closing. Special extended hours are offered for the
holidays when our Friday Nights discounted pricing will be in effect
every day from 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm from December 26, 2011 to January 7,
2012. Groups of 20 or more may call ROM Group Sales at 416.586.5801
(ext 2) or email for information on special
rates, private lectures, guided tours and themed menus. School groups
should visit or call ROM Education at
416.586.5801 (ext 1) for information on school visits.

Visit for full exhibition details and
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This exhibition is co-produced by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
and the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) in collaboration with
the National Institute of Anthropology and History(CONACULTA-INAH).