The growth of the great Mayan civilization is as much a mystery as its decline. The world has long been captivated by the ruins of the ancient temples, intricate glyphic inscriptions, and the remarkably accurate astronomical charts of this pre-Columbian culture. They built magnificent cities with huge stone palaces and pyramids; yet they had no knowledge of the wheel or metal tools. The Mayan civilization reached its peak in the classical period of 250 to 900 and then declined – the people moved from the cities into small villages, and the Inca and Aztec Empires replaced the Maya as the political center of the Central American world. Much of the remaining knowledge became lost to time and the Spanish conquest. The Maya seemed to fade into memory until discoveries in the 19th century renewed interest in the Yucatan region and its cultures. Continued discoveries and advancements in archaeology have given scholars a greater picture of this ancient, sophisticated civilization – a hidden world, now revealed.
Fifth and sixth grade students from Saint Benedict Academy were among the first students in New England to partake in the new special exhibition on the Mayan Civilization at Boston’s Museum of Science. The exhibit opened to the public in mid-October. Students were able to view and interact with artifacts from this civilization – a perfect connection to the fifth graders’ recent unit of study on the Maya.
Students began their day at the Mugar Omni Theatre where they had a special screening of the documentary Mystery of the Maya. Told through a modern-day archaeologist and a young Maya descendant who explore ruins and legends to unlock the secrets of the past, Mystery of the Maya took students on a breathtaking trip through Mayan culture and history.
Later, students had a special visit inside the exhibit Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed. In one section of the exhibit, students used Mayan symbols to complete math problems; and in another, they were challenged to reproduce intricate patterns found in Mayan cloth. One highlight for the students was getting to create their own glyph, or symbol, to represent their name. Students were then able to receive a printed bookmark with their birth date and unique glyph written in Mayan symbols. As students walked through the exhibit, they read commentary about different facets of Mayan life. Many of the students enjoyed learning about Mayan sports, especially how the games seemed the athletic ancestors of soccer and basketball.
Students also had time to explore other exhibits in the museum and were challenged to find a concept or experiment that intrigued them as a possible springboard for their Science Fair Projects this spring.
A special thanks to Mrs. Timpe, Mrs. LaPalme, and Mrs. Batt for organizing this wonderful excursion for our students – the exhibit deepened student comprehension of the Maya and piqued their interest to learn more about this fascinating civilization.