Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World Lecture Series

Exhibition gives rise to ROM's lecture series addressing many facets and mysteries of the ancient civilization

Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World is featured at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) from November 19, 2011 to April 9, 2012. The exhibition will be highlighted by a series of lectures delivered by world renowned speakers addressing various aspects of the Maya, the ancient Mesoamerican civilization whose Classic Period (250 to 900 CE) was a time of great achievement and whose collapse is still surrounded by much mystery. The lectures take place at the ROM prior to and throughout the engagement of Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World.

The William Thorsell Forum

Tuesday, November 1, 7:00 - 8:30 pm SOLD OUT - WAIT LIST IN EFFECT

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Jared Diamond

The ruined cities, temples and statues of history's great, vanished societies (Easter Island, Anasazi, the Lowland Maya, Angkor Wat, Great Zimbabwe, and many more) are the birthplaces of endless romantic mysteries. These disappearances, however, offer more than idle conjecture: their social collapses were due in part to the types of environmental problems that beset us today.

Yet many societies facing similar problems do not collapse. What makes certain societies especially vulnerable? Why didn't their leaders perceive and solve their environmental problems? What can we learn from their fates, and what can we do differently today to help us avoid their fates?

Speaker Jared Diamond, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, is the quintessential celebrity scientist. His popular lectures provide a deeper and more nuanced view of the development of human civilization and the continued gulf between rich and poor in the global community.

Diamond tackles the giant questions: Why do some societies thrive and prosper, while others shrivel and die? How can humanity maximize the opportunity for human happiness, while saving the planet from ecological ruin and collapse? Are there lessons we can learn from other great civilizations that have grown to world dominance?

Currently a professor of Geography at UCLA, Diamond is also the author of two other bestselling books, The Third Chimpanzee and Why Is Sex Fun? He has received some of the world's most prestigious awards, including a MacArthur Genius Grant and the National Medal of Science, America's highest civilian award in science.

Jared Diamond’s talk is followed by questions from the audience and a book signing of Collapse, as well as Guns, Germs and Steel.

Tickets: $29 Public/$26 ROM Members

Distinguished Lecture Series

Tuesday, November 15, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Rulers of the Maya World

Dr. Justin Jennings

Life without royalty was unthinkable to the Classic Period Maya (250-900 CE). The court's astronomers tracked the passage of time, and its scribes described the creation of the cosmos. The blood of kings and queens contained the essence of life and was offered as a sacrifice to gods and ancestors. Yet, the power of Maya sacred rulers began to unravel during the ninth century CE to be eventually replaced by councils of elders among the modern Maya. In this lecture, Dr. Jennings traces the development of sacred rule from its origins among the Olmec (1500-400 BCE) to its culmination in the palaces and temples of the Late Classic Maya (600-900 CE). He explores how these cities collapsed under the burden of overpopulation, environmental degradation, endemic warfare, and drought, and considers how the Maya example can help us better understand the rise and fall of other cults of personality in the ancient and modern world.

Dr. Justin Jennings is a Curator in the ROM’s World Cultures department and lead curator of the ROM's exhibition, Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World. After excavations in Greece and the United States, Jennings turned his research focus to Peruvian archaeology in which he has worked for the last 15 years. His current research focuses on urbanism, long-distance interaction, and cultural transmission. He has also published on heritage tourism, ritual change, and the ancient uses of alcohol. Currently completing analysis of a Middle Horizon mortuary cave (600-1000 CE), his recent books include Globalizations and the Ancient World, Beyond Wari Walls, and Drink, Power, and Society in the Ancient Andes.

Justin Jennings’ talk is followed by questions from the audience.

Tuesday, November 22, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

What Not to Believe About the Ancient Maya

Elizabeth Graham

Excavations in northern Belize at Lamanai, and on Ambergris Caye at Marco Gonzalez, have provided much information on the lives of people whose activities were not dependent upon the struggles for supremacy that dominated the lives of ruling families of Palenque, Calakmul, Tikal, and other centres. While it is true that Lamanai's meager glyphic record depicts rulers with the recognizable trappings of Classic Maya kingship, there is a host of other evidence from architecture, portable artifacts, and burials to show that Lamanai had a dynamic divorced from dynastic competition - driven instead by commerce and trade. The towns and villages on Ambergris Caye shared this dynamic, and the longevity of both Lamanai and the communities on the caye has much to tell us about what not to believe regarding the Maya collapse. The histories of these and other sites in the Maya coastal lowlands challenge generally accepted ideas about the Maya including collapse, environmental degradation, divine kings, elite "control," human sacrifice, and the nature of warfare.

Elizabeth Graham is a Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (UCL), and an Adjunct Research Professor in Anthropology at the University of Western Ontario. UCL and Western have been collaborating on Belize projects at Lamanai, Altun Ha, and Ambergris Caye for many years. Prior to moving to the UK, Dr. Graham was an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at York University. She has excavated a number of sites in Belize since 1973, and served as Archaeological Commissioner for the Belize Government from 1977 to 1979. She has directed investigations at Lamanai since 1998; in 2003, Scott Simmons of the University of North Carolina joined her as co-director. Work on Ambergris Caye, originally carried out with the ROM’s David Pendergast in the early 1990s, began again in 2010 with Dr. Simmons. Graham's fieldwork has focused on periods of transition in Maya history, particularly the Classic-to-Postclassic transition and the early Spanish colonial period. Her recent book, Maya Christians and Their Churches in Sixteenth-Century Belize is centred on the Spanish visita missions at Tipu and Lamanai.

Elizabeth Graham’s talk is followed by questions from the audience and a book signing of her latest book, Maya Christians and Their Churches in Sixteenth-Century Belize.

Tuesday, December 6, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

The Terminal Classic Period in the Northern Maya Lowlands:

New Perspectives on the City of Sayil and the Puuc Region

Jeremy Sabloff

At the time when many of the great cities in the Southern Maya Lowlands were declining in the late eighth and early ninth centuries CE, a host of cities in the Puuc Region, such as Uxmal, Kabah, and Sayil, were beginning a relatively short but brilliant florescence. This lecture will look at the Puuc cities, particularly focusing on the research at Sayil, placing them in the context of Terminal Classic events throughout the lowlands.

Jeremy A. Sabloff is an archaeologist whose research interests range from the study of ancient Maya civilization, to archaeological theory and method, to the history of American archaeology, to pre-industrial urbanism, and to the use of settlement pattern studies. He has conducted field work in the Maya lowlands of Mexico and Guatemala, including the major field project at the Yucatan site of Sayil, which he co-directed. Sabloff is the author or editor of over 20 books and monographs, such as Archaeology Matters, The New Archaeology and the Ancient Maya, Cities of Ancient Mexico, and A History of American Archaeology (with Gordon R. Willey), as well as countless chapters and articles on the Maya and the history of archaeology. He is President of the Santa Fe Institute, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Society of Antiquaries; he is also former president of the Society for American Archaeology.

Jeremy Sabloff’s talk is followed by questions from the audience and a book-signing of his latest books: Archaeology Matters, The Cities of Ancient Mexico, and The Ancient City: New Perspectives on Urbanism in the Old and New World (co-edited with Joyce Marcus).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

Reconsidering Ideas about Early Maya Political Organization

Helen Haines

Trent University archaeologists working in Belize have discovered markings, or glyphs, painted on a tomb wall that may record the name of a once unknown Maya ruler in North Central Belize. The archaeology team, led by Trent professor Helen Haines, discovered the glyphs in a 5th century CE tomb at the site of Ka'Kabish. The tomb is believed to be that of an important person or ruler from ancient Maya times. Prior to the Trent archaeologists' research, little was known about the area beyond the more famous, larger site of Lamanai, excavated in the 1970s and 1980s by ROM archaeologist David Pendergast. The Ka'Kabish tomb, unique to the area, along with other recent discoveries, opens up new understanding about the area’s political structure. These discoveries indicate that ancient Maya political alliances in the area were likely very different than researchers previously thought.

Helen R. Haines is a Research Associate at the Archaeological Research Centre and teaches with the Department of Anthropology at Trent University and the University of Toronto Mississauga. Her primary research interest focuses on the socio-political and economic development of early complex societies in Mesoamerica. She is currently director of the Ka'Kabish Archaeological Research Project in North-Central Belize. Haines' research explores ideas surrounding the nature of early Maya polities and examines the concepts of mobile Maya royal courts, and the creation of heterarchies and hegemonies among the ancient Maya polities of the Northern Belize Coastal Plain.

Helen Haines’ talk is followed by questions from the audience.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

Palenque: The Art and History of an Ancient Maya Royal Court

David Stuart

King Pakal was one of the greatest ancient rulers and the most prominent among a long line of monarchs in the city state of Palenque from 300 to 800 CE. Known as the "queen of Maya cities," Palenque fell into ruin and was abandoned along with other great urban centres when Maya civilization suffered a mysterious collapse over 1,000 years ago. Explore with David Stuart the rediscovery of Palenque by pioneer artists and archaeologists from the 18th century on as they documented the city's graceful and ornate palaces, temples, bas-reliefs, and hieroglyphic inscriptions. These inscriptions were largely unread until the late 20th century, when major breakthroughs in decipherment revealed Palenque's history. David Stuart, one of the leading decipherers, portrays a lost world of palace intrigue, of brilliant architects, of gods and revered ancestors. Today Palenque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a place of new reverence and relevance for millions of modern Maya, New Age spiritualists, and all those fascinated by the history of the Maya.

In 2004, David Stuart was appointed as the Linda and David Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing. His interests in the traditional cultures of Mesoamerica are wide-ranging, but his primary research focuses on the archaeology and epigraphy of ancient Maya civilization. His early work on the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs led to a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984. He received his PhD in Anthropology from Vanderbilt University in 1995, and taught at Harvard University for eleven years before arriving at the University of Texas, Austin. Stuart has conducted field research at numerous archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and remains actively engaged in several large-scale excavation projects in the Maya area. His publications include Ten Phonetic Syllables (1987), which laid much of the groundwork for the now-accepted methodology of decipherment. In 2003, he published Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, devoted to drawings and photographs of sculpture from Piedras Negras, Guatemala. Stuart is also the Director of The Mesoamerica Center at the University of Texas at Austin (formerly CHAAAC), which fosters multi-disciplinary studies and produces publications on ancient American art and culture.

David Stuart’s talk is followed by questions from the audience.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012

Anthony Aveni

December 21, 2012. The Internet, bookshelves, and movie theatres are full of prophecies, theories, and predictions that this date marks the end of the world, or at least the end of the world as we know it. Whether the end will result from the magnetic realignment of the north and south poles, bringing floods, earthquakes, death, and destruction; from the return of alien caretakers to enlighten or enslave us; or from a global awakening, a sudden evolution of Homo sapiens into non-corporeal beings - theories of great, impending changes abound. In his book, The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012, award-winning astronomer and Maya researcher Anthony Aveni explores these theories, explains their origins, and measures them objectively against evidence unearthed by Maya archaeologists, iconographers and epigraphers. He probes the latest information gathered by astronomers and earth scientists on the likelihood of Armageddon and the often proposed link between the Maya Long Count cycle and the precession of the equinoxes. Aveni then expands on these prophecies to include the broader context of how other cultures, ancient and modern, thought about the "end of things" and speculates on why cataclysmic events in human history have such a strong appeal within our pop culture.

Anthony Aveni is the Russell B. Colgate Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology, serving appointments in both Departments of Physics and Astronomy, and Sociology and Anthropology at Colgate University, where he has taught since 1963. Dr. Aveni helped develop the field of archaeoastronomy and now is considered one of the founders of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy, in particular for his research in the astronomical history of the Maya Indians of ancient Mexico. Dr. Aveni is a lecturer, speaker, and editor/author of over two dozen books on ancient astronomy.

Anthony Aveni’s talk is followed by questions from the audience and a signing of his latest book, The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012.

Lectures take place in the Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre

Tickets are now available:

Individual lectures:

$23 Public/$21 ROM Members

Lecture package: (all 6 lectures for the price of 4):

$92 Public/$84 ROM Members

To register for lectures go to or call 416.586.5797