- Travel through seven color-coded zones organized by culture and region, reaching from Mexico to the isthmus of Panama.
- See the largest group of Maya stone monuments on display in the United States, including “Stela 14,” the monument that helped Penn archaeologists crack the code to deciphering incredibly complex Mayan glyphs in the 1960s.
- Come face to face with rare Aztec sculptures, including a huge conch shell that might once have stood in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.
- Learn more about the legacy of the ancient Maya in Maya culture today, brought into the galleries through strikingly vivid woven textiles displayed in a special case.
For thousands of years, powerful cultures in the region known today as Mexico and Central America shared the landscape, domesticated crops, carved monuments, and built towering architecture. The new Mexico and Central America Gallery showcases some of the finest artifacts of their kind in the United States, including many that have never been on display before, to highlight how these cultures each had their own languages and artistic traditions but also influenced one another.
The Gallery highlights some major developments of the region’s ancient civilizations—including urbanism, writing, organized religions, and political hierarchies—to illuminate what they had in common and where they diverged. Organized by seven thematic sections, the Gallery also includes a section on the traditions of living Maya today.
The Museum has a long history of excavation and research in the region. Many of the objects on display were excavated by Penn archaeologists and brought to the Museum through agreements with the host countries. Others are on loan, including several important Aztec sculptures from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The striking limestone monument known as “Stela 14” (a stela is a stone monument) once stood at the site of Piedras Negras, Guatemala. It depicts a Maya ruler, wearing an elaborate headdress and heavy jade jewelry, and his mother, holding a bundle of feathers; they are surrounded by Mayan glyph writing. 2,300 years ago, the Maya developed the most sophisticated and long-lasting writing system in the Americas—no other script rivals its complexity. Visitors can see intact glyphs on the stelae in the Gallery and then try creating their own at an interactive station.
Maya Huipil (blouse)
This woman’s huipil (blouse) is an example of the Maya textiles on display for the first time—a selection will rotate frequently, to protect them from wear, in a special case in the new Gallery. Hand woven in Guatemala in 1930, this blouse was collected by Lilly de Jongh Osborne, whose vast collection of early 20th-century Maya garments forms the basis of the Museum’s collection. The central zigzag band on the cotton and silk huipil shows how Maya weavers incorporate traditional motifs and symbols into their cloth—here, the pattern suggests the ancient Maya feathered serpent creator god.
Water Goddess Statue
This very rare statue from Teotihuacan—one of the world’s largest cities by 500 CE—is one of perhaps only two in existence. It shows the “Water Goddess,” a major Teotihuacan deity of water and fertility, and would have been painted in bright colors. In fact, traces of red and green can still be seen on the statue. This piece is on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.