Tales of the Maya Skies
Journey Back in Time and Discover an Ancient Civilization
Sorry, this show closed Friday, Mar 8, 2013
Tales of the Maya Skies
Tales of the Maya Skies will immerse you in Maya science, art and mythology. The Maya observed, documented and predicted astronomical events with great accuracy, and they even built their cities and temples to align to the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets. Their observations and sophisticated mathematical system also allowed them to develop a precise calendar system that fascinates the world to this day. Through full-dome digital technology, you’ll be transported to the jungles of Mexico to explore the rich history and culture of this ancient civilization. Narrated by Latin Grammy Award-winner Lila Downs.
- Explore the rich history and culture of the ancient Maya civilization at Chichén Itzá.
- Journey back in time to visit ancient temples through advanced computer-generated graphics and three-dimensional laser scanning—techniques that support archeologists in interpreting and preserving these valued sites.
- Discover how the Maya used a sophisticated mathematical system in conjunction with the observation of natural events such as solstices, solar eclipses and planetary movements to develop a precise calendar system.
- Enjoy the first full-dome digital show highlighting a Latin American culture! Spanish language narration is available anytime, free of charge—just ask for a headset at the Ticket Counter.
Who Are the Maya?
Tales of the Maya Skies tells the story of how the ancient Maya interwove astronomy and culture to create a stable society that spanned 2,000 years, from 500 BCE to 1500 CE. Maya culture, life, architecture and legends were intertwined with the ancient Maya’s scientific observation and recording of planetary movements.
The ancient Maya achieved an unparalleled understanding of astronomy. They developed an advanced system of mathematics that allowed them to create a set of calendars unrivaled in the ancient world. Their logo-syllabic (symbols representing either a syllable or a word) writing system has fascinated linguists for centuries and has only recently been decoded.
The show is set primarily at Chichén Itzá, one of the last great city states of the Maya classic/post classic period. This site is renowned for the alignment of its temples to the Sun and Venus and for the glyphs representing deities associated with the Sun and Venus.
The ancient Maya had the most advanced system of mathematics of any ancient civilization in the Americas, and quite possibly in Europe and Asia. The Maya were one of the first ancient cultures to use the concept of zero, which allowed them to write and calculate large sums.
Maya numbers are written using three symbols, a shell image for zero, a dot representing one, and a bar for five.
Different combinations of bars and dots represent numbers 6–19.
Numbers larger than 19 are represented using powers of 20.
Place value 20 numbers are recorded inside rows in vertical columns. Each ascending row has the value of a power of 20 (1, 20, 400, 800, etc.). The number (1–19) within each row is multiplied by the place value of that row, and the results are summed for the entire column.
Maya Number Glyphs
Number glyphs were widely used in the inscriptions on Maya stone carvings and in their books. Many Maya gods and rulers have numbers as part of their names. Maya number glyphs were also used to write dates that would appear on calendars. The Maya believe that the Earth was created on the day 4 Ahaw 8 Kumku, in the year 3114 B.C.E.
The Maya Language
Ancient Maya writing used hieroglyphs, pictorial representations, that were carved in stone and other materials, painted on pottery and murals or written in books. Glyphs were used for writing, not for the purpose of decoration. The hieroglyphic code of the Maya was undecipherable to modern scholars until quite recently. Now it is understood that the Maya script was a logo-syllabic system. Individual symbols (“glyphs”) could represent either a word or a syllable; indeed, the same glyph could often be used for both.
Maya glyphs appeared on the faces of buildings, on carvings, in books and murals. They described the everyday life of the cities and rulers and were also used to record astrological and astronomical events.
Maya scribes played a crucial role in the court as the keepers of information, as the commoners in ancient Maya society were most likely illiterate. It was the scribe’s role to preserve the power of the king through writing. Scribes could be men or women, were in the upper class, and lived in luxury, beholden to the king.
There are about 30 vowel and consonant sounds in the Maya language.
a sounds like “ah” as in father
e sounds like “eh” in left
i sounds like the double “ee” in tree
o sounds like the “o” in bone
u sounds like the double “oo” in zoo
b at the end of a word is pronounced as a p
c is always pronounced like the English k
ch is pronounced as tsh
j is pronounced as a hard h
l is almost silent at the end of a word
pp is pronounced as an explosive p
th is pronounced as an explosive t
ts is pronounced as the first ch in church
tz or dz is pronounced just as it looks
x is pronounced sh
A crop mark, ‘, indicates a sudden stop between sounds
Maya Language Today
There are more than seven million Maya living today in the Americas and Europe. They do not create glyphs as the ancients did, but their language is still unique.
30 Maya languages are spoken in Mesoamerica; 10 linguistic families with about three language variants each. People who speak languages from different linguistic families cannot typically understand each other. The ancient hieroglyphic script is most closely related to the following spoken languages today: Chorti (near Copan in Honduras), Yucatec (Yucatan peninsula) and Chol (near Palenque in Chiapas).
One of the largest linguistic groups speaks Yucatec Mayan. Some examples of how English phrases would sound in Yucatec Mayan follow.
“Hi, how are you all?” in English would be “Bix a belex” in Maya (pronounced Beesh ah behlehsh).
“I am fine” in English would be “Maloob” (pronounced Mah-lohb).
“Thank you” in English would be “Yum botic” (pronounced Yoom boh-teek).
“You’re welcome” in English would be “Mixba’a” (pronounced Meesh-ba-a).
How Have We Learned About Maya Mythology?
The POPOL VUH is the most important source of information on the mythology of the ancient Maya. A sacred book of the Quiché Maya of Guatemala, it was written down in the mid-1500s. A Spanish priest discovered the Popol Vuh manuscript in the early 1700s. After copying the text, he translated it into Spanish.
The Popol Vuh is divided into five parts. The first contains an account of the creation of the world and of the failed attempts to produce proper human beings. The second and third parts tell of the adventures of the Hero Twins, Hunahpú and Xbalanqúe, and their forebears. The last two parts deal with the issue of creating humans from corn and then tell the story of the Quiché people, from the days before their history began to accounts of tribal wars and records of rulers up until 1550.
About the Narrator
Narrator Lila Downs is a Latin Grammy Award-winning singer and song writer. Her music taps into the native Mesoamerican music of the Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya and Nahuatl cultures. Ms. Downs grew up in both the United States and Mexico, but returned permanently to Mexico where she developed her unique musical and performing style. Ms. Downs appeared in the movie Frida singing Burn it Blue, a song that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. Lila Downs’ film credits include songs in Tortilla Soup, Real Women Have Curves and Fados. She has released six albums including Shake Away, La Canhuga, Una Sangre, La Sandunga, Border, Tree of Life, and most recently, The Very Best of Lila Downs. While based in Mexico City, Ms. Downs regularly tours internationally where she receives outstanding reviews.
Listen in Spanish while the show plays in English. Ask for a complimentary headset at the Ticket Counter.
Fri, May 24th
Fri, May 24th
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