The Maya people are a sophisticated and complex culture with ancient roots. More than a thousand years ago, they created a unique hieroglyphic alphabet to carve important dates, names of their rulers, and ceremonial events on stone monuments in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. A frequent misconception is that the Maya no longer exist. Not so—more than seven million descendants continue to carry on the traditions and cultural practices of their ancestors through weaving, woodcarving, ceramics, language, agriculture, and more.

Photo by Stacy Keck.

The huge Maya monuments, or stelae, displayed in the Rotunda Gallery are casts of the original monuments in Quiriguá, a site in Guatemala. The casts were made for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and have been on display since then, except during World War II, when the Navy turned the Museum into a hospital. 

Weathering and erosion have since damaged the original monuments making the casts valuable resources. Today, these casts are studied by researchers tracing the history of the Maya through their hieroglyphic writing.

In addition to the stelae, the current exhibition includes objects of cultural significance that highlight the traditions and beliefs of the ancient Maya.

Click here to learn more about the monument casts.

Photos by Stacy Keck