Penn Museum to Open "Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya"

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Media Contact:Jordan Reese | | 215-573-6604
Media Contact:Pam Kosty | | 215-898-4045March 10, 2009

PHILADELPHIA –- A world-renowned collection of ancient Maya painted pottery, excavated by the University of Pennsylvania Museum nearly a century ago and reinterpreted in light of recent research, provides the centerpiece for “Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya,” an exhibition opening at Penn Museum April 5 and running through December before beginning a multi-city national tour.

Like so many pieces of the famous Chama pottery that conservators meticulously put back together at Penn Museum, “Painted Metaphors” yields new clues to understanding everyday life and changing politics of the ancient Maya of Guatemala 1,300 years ago.

At the center of “Painted Metaphors” are almost two dozen recently conserved Maya painted vessels from Chama, a Maya village in the highlands far from the more sophisticated lowland centers of Maya culture. It was here that archaeologist Robert Burkitt discovered this pottery brilliantly painted with elaborate scenes and unlike anything else the region had ever produced. Elin Danien, Museum research associate, is the curator.

The exhibition includes a rare focus on the ordinary Maya, with material that reflects the ancient way of life. There are more than 150 ancient artifacts, including figurines, jade carvings, musical instruments, weaving implements, burial urns, cave offerings and more. Also, the exhibition features photos and video of Maya life in the village of Chama today.

After the arrival of the Spanish, in 1512, Maya civilization collapsed, though Maya culture continued, and its traditions are practiced today by more than 4 million descendants in Mexico and Guatemala.

The history of the ancient Maya continues to be reconstructed, piece by piece, not only by archaeologists in the field but also by laboratory scientists, epigraphers deciphering ancient inscriptions and researchers delving into Museum collections and archives. Through field notes and records and behind-the-scenes conservation video, “Painted Metaphors” offers a window into the process of reconstruction and discovery of the ancient past.

The presenting sponsor of “Painted Metaphors” is Rohm and Haas. The media sponsor is The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Additional funding for “Painted Metaphors” is provided by the Selz Foundation LLC, the Seth Sprague Charitable Trust, Diane v.S. Levy and Robert M. Levy, Annette Merle-Smith and A. Bruce and Margaret R. Mainwaring.