On this jade plaque from the Late Classic period (600 to 800 CE), a cross-legged king sits next to a dwarf. His throne is flanked by maize plants, with profiles of the god K’awiil and the maize god below, likely representing his deceased ancestors. On loan from Guatemala’s Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, it is just one of the rare treasures featured in the Royal BC Museum’s upcoming exhibition, MAYA: The Great Jaguar Rises, opening May 17. Courtesy RBCM

Royal BC Museum set to launch its latest exhibition coup

Victoria institution’s new show on the Maya makes its North American debut May 17

After its massively successful Egypt: The Time of the Pharaohs exhibition in 2018, the Royal BC Museum is preparing to take visitors on another journey into the ancient past starting May 17.

This mosaic statuette of stone, shell and plaster on a wooden core is from Tikal’s Early Classic period (500 to 600 CE). Photo by J.C. Menendez

Maya: The Great Jaguar Rises will showcase the powerful culture that rose in the tropical rain forests of Central America thousands of years ago. Boasting the world’s largest and most impressive display of Mayan objects from Guatemala, including almost 300 precious jade, ceramic, gold, stones and textile artifacts, this exhibition is making its North American debut at the Royal BC Museum.

Many of the artifacts have never been seen in North America before, including elaborate incense burners, magnificent jade and gold jewellery, and the exhibition’s namesake, a remarkable three-metre-long lime-and-stucco sculpture of a man with the attributes of a jaguar, dating from between 250 and 600 BCE.

“Securing the Maya exhibition for 2019 was doubly important for us,” says Leah Best, head of knowledge at the RBCM.

“First, we needed an exhibition we knew could hold its own as a follow up to Egypt. Second, Maya: The Great Jaguar Rises ties in perfectly with UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019. Guatemala, where all the artifacts are coming from, officially recognizes 30 indigenous Maya languages that are spoken by almost half of the population today.”

The artifacts and accompanying information will guide visitors as they learn how science and belief shaped the Maya identity from ancient times to the present day.

Janet Macdonald, head of learning for the RBCM, says the broad-based display of cultural belongings from the diminutive to the monumental – “a stunning, diverse expression of Maya culture” – will hook visitors from the moment they walk through the dramatic entranceway.

“This exhibition gives us a glimpse into a civilization that rivals any from the ancient world, and also considers current archaeological research, which consistently and continually reveals more about Maya life,” she says. “And let’s not forget that the artifacts in this exhibition have never before been seen outside of Guatemala. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The all-ages exhibition features many interactive activities, from writing sentences using Mayan glyphs to calculating your birthday on the Mayan calendar. The display will also feature in some of the youth and adult summer camps, workshops and other programming at the museum this year.

The exhibition is a joint venture between MuseumsPartner and the Royal BC Museum, with lending partners that include some of the most relevant museums and collections in Guatemala, and support from the Guatemala Ministry of Culture and Sports.

For more information and to purchase tickets visit royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/maya.



editor@mondaymag.com

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This limestone-and-stucco sculpture of a man with the attributes of a jaguar is from the Early Classic period (250-600 CE) and likely once adorned a public building. On loan from Guatemala’s Fundación La Ruta Maya, it is just one of the rare treasures featured in MAYA: The Great Jaguar Rises, opening May 17 at the Royal BC Museum. Courtesy RBCM

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