Mayan politics depicted in Penn Museum show

Thu Apr 2, 2009 10:52am EDT
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By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - In a lighted display case, an ancient pottery cylinder depicts a naked man kneeling before two menacing figures, one of which is holding a spear-like object topped with a large blade.

The kneeling figure, archaeologists say, is about to be put to death for his defiance of the other characters on the vessel who have invaded the victim's land, and wish to demonstrate control of their new territory.

The cylinder, part of a new exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, tells the story of the takeover of a remote area of what is now the Guatemalan highlands by lowland Mayan invaders some 1,300 years ago.

The show, which runs from April 5 to January 31, 2010, assembles pottery, jewelry, figurines, burial urns and other artifacts to describe the invasion of the isolated village of Chama by a more advanced civilization.

"We've confirmed that elite groups of Maya did indeed travel to take over small sites," said Elin Danien, the curator of the exhibit. "This fills in a segment of the Maya universe."

Entitled Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya, the exhibit draws on about 150 items from the university's collection, many of which have never before been on public display.

They were gathered in 1916 by the Penn Museum archaeologist Robert Burkitt and have, in some cases, been reconstructed from pottery fragments gathered on site.

Visitors are invited to reconstruct their own vessels by using magnetized replicas of pottery fragments in a special case in the museum gallery.   Continued...