Name: Museum of Maya Culture in Chetumal Mexico
City, State, Country: Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico
BY JANET MIESS
On our recent visit to Belize a group of IMS members had the chance to visit the Museum of Maya Culture in Chetumal, Mexico. The museum is housed in a large building based on the traditional house plan of rooms located around a central patio area that contains a garden. It features a store selling handicrafts and a bookstore with an extensive collection of books on Mexican history and culture in both English and Spanish. Other rooms along the way have changing exhibits of local art, both sculpture and paintings, that are well done. The main attraction is a three-story building that houses few actual artifacts but has excellent interactive displays that give you insights into the Maya culture. The displays are not only visual but also include soundtracks that I thought greatly enhanced the visit.
As you ambulate, you can view replicas of stelas from Copan, and a reproduction of Room 3 at the site of Bonampak with its beautiful murals. There is a wonderful video of the main buildings of Tikal, Palenque, and Yaxchilan from the air. There are also models of structures at Tikal, Yaxchilan, and Palenque, among others, some of which can be seen from atop a glass floor.
In the background, the calls of the Howler Monkeys give the visitor a sense of what it is like to be walking amongst the ruins at a jungle-covered site.
The displays cover Maya mathematics, writing, and the calendar. Each of the displays has a video monitor that can give the visitor more information about the concepts being presented in the displays.
The tree rises through all three floors of the building and gives the visitor a great perspective on the Mayan view of the cosmos. The bottom floor or for a better term, the basement, is the location of Xibalba. The display is that of cave with the gods of the dead floating through the air. The soundtrack here is of dripping water and hammering sounds that give you the idea of what the Maya thought the underworld was like. In one corner you see a ritual being conducted by a group of Maya elites in one room of the cave (Figure 3). The second level of the world tree gives you an explanation of the world of the living. And the third level gives explains the sky world where the gods and the ancestors are thought to reside.
All in all, even though, there are only a few artifacts on display, I thought this museum is well worth a visit if you are in the area, especially for those who are new to Maya studies and wish to get a great overview of what the Maya were all about.