At the beginning of this week, we prepared for the packing of the objects. In anticipation of professional packers that arrived yesterday morning, we assembled and checked the necessary documents related to the lending, transportation, and customs procedures. Yesterday was a busy day of supporting the packing process. The team helped out by photographing the packing of the objects and by finalizing documentation. The effort continues today.
Watching Loa help to coordinate an effort that involves the Penn Museum, the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (a government institution), and the community of Copan, I’ve gained some insight into all that goes into pulling together an exhibition, particularly an exhibition of antiquities. Every party has particular interests that must be understood and considered throughout the process. In addition to carrying out the necessary steps for the transportation of the objects, we are proving ourselves to be ethical, respectful borrowers and supporters of the local community. Seeing how much Copan values its cultural heritage has given me a richer appreciation for the objects that will be transported to Philadelphia in the next week.
Walking along the Maya ruins in the archeological park of Copan Ruinas, visitors will see how the color red is significant to the Maya civilization. It can be seen in stelae, temples, and was even found in the royal tombs. For example, the bones believed to be that of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo,’ Copan’s founder, were painted red with cinnabar, something that would have taken place after the body decomposed. The sub-Jaguar tomb, probably that of the seventh or eighth ruler of Copan, had red walls. Cinnabar and hematite were also found inside offering vessels in the Hunal, Margarita and sub-Jaguar tombs, probably used in rites. What is the significance of this color? Red represented the east, the direction of the rising sun, and symbolized death and rebirth. Death could have been seen as a new birth, and therefore red would have been associated with resurrection.
Stela C, Copan Ruinas Archeology Park
Photo by Rosa De Armas
Copan as a town is fabulous. Although I have traveled to Honduras before, this is my first time in Copan. Compared to the other regions of the country that I have been to such as La Paz and Tegucigalpa, Copan is much more of a tourist town –there are lots of small, charming restaurants and souvenir shops that have beautifully embroidered bags, pulseras, and beaded jewelry. The town is small but lively. Following the typical Latin American city plan, Copan is centered around a park. There are food venders selling chicken, tortillas, rice, and cotton candy throughout the square, children running and playing with one another, couples walking together, and tourists admiring the sites. Although we are working about five minutes outside of the centro, closer to where the actual ruinas are, it is nice to come back to this lovely town after a long day of work.
La Prensa, a Honduran independent newspaper, posted this article about the exhibition. Check it out!
Hello! My name is Rosa De Armas and I am Master’s student in the History of Art department at Penn. Working in the exhibition Maya 2012: Lords of Time is an exciting opportunity that will let me increase my training in museums, while also learning more about Maya civilization.
The exhibition will focus on the speculation of the end of times, an idea that derives from the completion of the Maya calendrical cycle. It will introduce visitors to Maya culture and their views of time, connecting past events with contemporary ones.
At the moment I am in Copan assisting curator Loa Traxler with the phodocumentation of the objects that will be taken to Philadelphia, to be exhibited in May at the Penn Museum. In the next days we will immerse more deeply in the world of the Maya by working with objects excavated from royal tombs by the Penn Museum. Get ready to get a glimpse of our experience in Copan and learn more about the Maya.
Yesterday we spent the day exploring the ruins of Copan and the Museum of Sculpture. The experience was particularly rewarding because Loa Traxler, the curator of the exhibition, provided us with information about the monuments’ iconography, restorations, and history. It became clear that it was incredibly difficult for me to know exactly what I was looking at because throughout the day Loa provided us with insights that were far from apparent and radically shifted the way I would have experienced the acropolis otherwise.
A number of the temples had significant restorations that one might mistake for their withstanding time. In contrast, there were also some mounds of stones that looked like refuse piles, though they were actually untouched remains. It was the first time I was challenged to visualize a grand structure based solely upon its fallen walls. I was engaged in a lively inner monologue about whether I was more affected by restored structures that somewhat resembled their original forms or remains that attested truthfully to their age, weathering, and collapse.
The ball court was particularly and inexplicably monumental. It was grand yet unassuming with two parallel slopes, simple sculptures, and remnants of markers used in the games themselves. I try to make sense of civilization long past while confronting the severe limitations of such a feat. The ball court and the ruins in general were quite thought-provoking and completely overwhelming. The importance and visibility of the structures persisted in the basic forms and scale.
Loa took us through the tunnels under the acropolis and explained how structures from earlier rulers had been covered up and used as a foundation for new buildings. From the exterior there was no indication that these earlier structures existed, which made seeing hints of them along the path rather surprising. It was a more-than-meets-the-eye experience that was wonderful in its frustrating and baffling complexity.
Greetings from Copan!
My name is Miranda Saylor and I am a junior studying Art History and History. I am from Montclair, New Jersey. I transferred from Barnard College this year, and one of my reasons for coming to University of Pennsylvania was because of the Penn Museum. When applying to transfer, I was aware the museum’s impressive Mesoamerican Gallery and was very interested in studying the collection. In addition to my major, I love studying history, Spanish, and Latin America in general. I initially applied to be a part of the Maya 2012 exhibition team because it was a unique opportunity that combined all of these interests. Like Emily, I am also in Honduras right now, assisting with the documentation of the objects that will be transported to Philadelphia. Today, Dr. Loa Traxler, the curator of the exhibition, gave us a wonderful tour of the ruins, which was a great introduction to the site.
In addition to our involvement here in Copan, I am the coordinator of our blog. “Maya 2012 – From Copan to Penn” is meant to record the exhibition’s development, but from the unique insider perspective of students working together as a team as well as independently on our individual areas of study. I am also working on the outreach initiative for the exhibition as part of the Maya 2012 Community Advisory Board Committee. The final aspect of my independent study is the research component. Leading up to this trip, I have been reading about Maya civilization in present day Latin America. I hope to incorporate this research with content specific to this exhibition, whether that be ceramics or portrayals of kings and gods has yet to be decided. So far, working with this exhibition team has been a fantastic experience, and I am excited to see what the rest of this week has in store for us.
My name is Anastasia Matijkiw and I’m a senior at Penn, majoring in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and minoring in photography. I’m planning to get my masters after I graduate from Penn in Archives and Records Management. Although my areas of study are not directly related to the Maya, I’m highly interested in learning more about their culture while also further exploring the inner workings of museums.
As a part of the team, I’ll be maintaining a separate photo blog that will explore the exhibits’ process in its final stages. It will begin with the exhibit space as it is being built through to the opening, including a variety of behind the scenes images. The blog will feature not only my own photos, but images from the Penn Museum’s Archives that will help to tell the story of Copan. Along with this blog, I’ll be helping to compile a master database for the objects in the exhibit.
My name is Emily Kim and I am a junior at Penn, double majoring in Art History and Economics. I am originally from Farmington, Connecticut, but I currently live in Boston and Manhattan. I joined this project because it combines my interests in art, culture, and Latin America. I believe that this exhibition on the Maya will bring attention and interest to art forms and cultures about which many people, including myself, know very little.
I am excited and eager to contribute to the project while learning a great deal about museums and Maya civilization. I am currently in Copan to help with the packing of objects that will be in the exhibition. We will primarily assist with the documentation and photography of the objects. This week will be a crash course in the mechanics of an exhibition and addressing issues of cultural heritage.
Additionally, I am researching a group of masks in the exhibition that are used in “The Dance of the Conquest.” The dance itself is quite fascinating, and it chronicles the confrontation between the Ki’che’ Maya and the Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado and his troops in the 1520’s. It is a long and elaborate performance that treads the line between scripted drama and dance. “The Dance of the Conquest” also combines Pre-Columbian traditions with colonial and modern elements. It is largely considered to be the national dance of Guatemala, and it is still performed today at local fairs. It is wonderful to be able to get hands-on experience with an amazing set of objects.