If your knowledge of the Maya civilization is limited to what you learned at all those apocalypse-themed parties in 2012 when the Maya calendar was ending, then the Perot Museum of Nature and Science has a lot to show you. Its latest exhibit, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, opened Feb. 11 and will remain up through Sept. 4
According to Eveline Kuchmak, manager of temporary exhibitions at the Perot, Hidden Worlds Revealed is the largest exhibition about the Maya ever to tour North America. It was created by the Science Museum of Minnesota, with which the Perot has collaborated before, and contains 240 artifacts as well as two dozen interactive displays. The Perot is known for its interactiveness, which helps the museum to appeal to kids.
On the Tuesday we visited with photographers Sarah Reyes and Daniel Driensky, the kids were out in full force. But these hands-on elements weren't just good for young people. Many adults also consider themselves tactile learners, and the interactive parts — including a Maya name generator with printed results, a touch-screen game showing what your birthday looks like on the Maya calendar and a game in which you get to choose your class within their civilization — really help people young and old to engage more deeply with the culture.
The exhibit also takes you step-by-step through the Maya hieroglyphs, which was almost a lost language. Binoculars that look like a Fisher-Price viewfinder show you the jungles and Maya temples. One of the coolest activities in the exhibit allows you to recreate corbeled arches using foam building blocks. Once you've built a painstaking imitation of Maya architecture it is both fun and distressing to watch kids tear it apart Godzilla-style.
Even though the exhibit is meant to be family friendly, it doesn't totally gloss over the Mayas' obsession with death and sacrifices. However, it’s all facts and no gore. We would have enjoyed a jaguar-sacrificing display, but accepting disappointment is a part of life.
Another thing that stood out about the exhibit is that it is offered in both English and Spanish. Even the interactive touch screens have a Spanish option. The rest of the Perot is in English only, and it was nice that with this exhibit they made an effort to accommodate Dallas' large Spanish-speaking population. On Tuesday, tons of Spanish-speaking elementary students could be seen grasping the exhibit in their first language.
“We are proud that Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed is now our fourth exhibition presented in both English and Spanish,” Kuchmak says. “Accessibility is a priority for us, so we plan for future and updated museum exhibits to have bilingual content.”
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Even Reyes — whose family immigrated from Guatemala, where there are actual Maya ruins — had good things to say about the exhibit.
“The replica stone monuments were brought to life with color projection mapping which is a concept even I did not stop to ponder when I was at the foot of the actual edifice,” she said. “The only thing that was not conveyed in the design of the exhibit was the tropical environment. The ruins in Tikal sit in a jungle where you are surrounded by tropical plants and animals, which is of course incredibly visually compelling.”
At least for someone with limited knowledge of the Maya, this exhibit will create an ambition to see the real deal.
See Maya: Hidden World Revealed at Perot Museum of Nature and Science, 2201 N. Field St., through Sept. 4. General admission for adults is $29; for kids it’s $20; for seniors it’s $21; and children 2 and under get in free. There’s a Maya gift shop at the end of the exhibition, so bring a few extra bucks if you want worry dolls. For more info, visit perotmuseum.org.