A-Maya-zing! The Maya Exhibition in Liverpool

I recently paid a visit to the World Museum in Liverpool to see the exhibition ‘Mayas: Revelation of an endless time.’ I had never visited this museum before and was impressed by what I saw. It looked to be a modern, airy and well-designed museum and not just in the special exhibition areas. The foyer was impressive with a huge skeleton of a Pterodactyl hanging from above!

The World Museum is the only museum in the UK to host this exhibition which is part of the ‘2015 Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom’ and ‘Year of the United Kingdom in Mexico.’ The artefacts have been assembled from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) in Mexico. A great bonus about this exhibition is one that it is FREE! Which is astonishing when you see the sheer amount of artefacts on display. Another bonus is that you are allowed to take photographs as long as you turn the flash off on the camera that you use. Which is great news for many visitors especially those of us who write blogs!

Head of Pakal Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)
Head of Pakal
Late Classic Period
(AD 600-900)

The exhibition is displayed in a chronological fashion, with a few information panels throughout but what is really clever is that the curators let the incredible artefacts speak for themselves through displaying the smaller ones in a series of glass cabinets and the larger stone sculptures on plinths. I was astounded at the size of the exhibition as when you first walk into the room it appears to be smaller than you think, but it is cleverly laid out so that it is Tardis like and swings round to the right and goes further and further back.

Before I visited the museum, I did not know a lot about the Maya civilisation apart from some general knowledge facts but I learnt so much from the exhibition about the Maya. One of the first things I learnt was that the Maya civilisation lasted a very long time from 3000BC till 1617 (when 90% of the population had been wiped out from disease and slaughter brought by the Spanish Conquisition). Today though, there are more than six million Maya people still living in Maya areas.

Jade Necklace and Bar-Shaped Jade Pendants  Late Classic Period (AD600-900)
Jade Necklace and Bar-Shaped Jade Pendants
Late Classic Period

As stated previously, the exhibition is arranged chronologically into Pre classic (300BC-AD250), Classic (AD250-900) and Post Classic (AD900-AD1550) periods. At the centre of Maya civilisations were huge stone cities with pyramids that contained temples and palaces of the royal courts). These stone cities were the epicentre of Maya culture, a culture that was very advanced and had developed its own calendar and writing system. Maya cities were also very organised civilisations in that they housed administrative, military, religious and arts and crafts centres.

Funerary Mask from Dzibanche Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)
Funerary Mask from Dzibanche
Late Classic Period
(AD 600-900)

The Maya peoples were very in touch with the natural world and this was shown in the exhibition in the animal artefacts displayed. The Maya also grew Maize which they held as a sacred crop and cocoa which they also believed to be very important. They believed that animals were sacred beings who possessed souls. Certain animals such as jaguars, snakes and owls were worshipped as they were believed to be closer to the gods (as some had special abilities such as being able to fly). There even built a temple called the Temple of the Owl in Dzibanche, Quintana Roo, Mexico. In the exhibition there were many artefacts that displayed such beliefs as the one below:

Head of a Pelican  Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)
Head of a Pelican
Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)

The Maya undertook regular religious rituals as they believed that the gods needed to be sated with blood from animals and humans as blood was seen as the ‘life source.’ So sacrifices were essential for the continued survival of gods and the universe.

Before conducting a sacrifice they would firstly partake of a cleansing ceremony where they would not sleep and abstain from relations. After this, the rituals could begin which included: prayers, incense, singing, dancing, feasts of food and drink followed by human or animal sacrifice.

One of the strangest artefacts on display was a blood letting tool that the Mayas used to pierce either their tongue or in the case of men their genitals to drain blood to offer to the gods. Apart from this sharp stick on display they also had clay sculptures of men injuring themselves in this way with a look of pure agony on their faces!

Human Figurines Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)
Human Figurines
Late Classic Period
(AD 600-900)

Another important part of the exhibition is the amount of Jade on display which was truly astonishing! Jade was used by the Maya in jewellery and for adornment on breastplates etc. Both women and men wore jewellery and as well as necklaces, earrings, bracelets, anklets, hair adornments and decorated breastplates they also created funerary masks out of jade and ear plugs. Jade was one of the main materials used for adornment although they did use obsidian, gold, turquoise, silver and other materials depending on the time period. The Maya could certainly be said to like their bling, they could even be said to be one of the first civilisations that invented a type of grill or tooth adornment as they decorated their teeth by drilling holes through the centre of the top teeth and inserted jade, turquoise and iron pyrites through the holes!

Overall, this exhibition was fascinating. I learnt so much about the Maya and since purchasing this fascinating book from the gift shop, plan to keep on learning lots more. If you are near to or able to visit Liverpool this Summer then I would highly recommend you take time out to visit this excellent FREE exhibition which is on till 18th October 2015.

Published by

Jo Cameron-Symes

I believe cultural criticism and analysis should be both accessible and help to further enrich peoples' lives. I have an MA from the University of York in the Sociology of Contemporary Culture and was previously the Chair of a regional charity for people with long term illness. During my time as Chair I noticed that the people I met who embraced culture and used it to enrich and explore their lives found that it enhanced their quality of life. Through accessing and exploring exhibitions, media and gardens that helped people including myself to cope with their current life situation.

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