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Mérida, part 2 July 16, 2017

Posted by stinawp in Uncategorized.
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On Wednesday, the third day of the conference, I played hooky in the afternoon and went to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya–the Great Museum of the Mayan World. The size of the building certainly lives up to the name:

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If you wanted to be pessimistic, you could say that the museum is organized around three catastrophes: the asteroid that crashed into Yucatan 65 million years ago, the collapse of the Classical Maya, and the Spanish conquest. The first exhibition hall has lots of items related to the asteroid, including an animated movie of the impact that’s actually called “Armageddon”. They didn’t really mention the fact that some dinosaurs survived and that they could be pooping on your windshield at this very moment. This struck me as since they went to some pains to point out that the Maya are still very much alive, despite their abandonment of their large cities in the 800s and the invasion of the Spanish in the 1500s.

It turns out that some people don’t like the term “collapse of the Maya” for what happened in the 800s. On the one hand, this strikes me as a bit silly—I want to go to Italy and ask whether people object to “the fall of Rome” as a description of what happened in the 400s. On the other, I think it’s much more obvious to your average First World resident that Rome continued to exist than the Mayans did. There also seem to be at least a few people who think that the abandonment of the cities was a successfully response to a changing environment, rather than a collapse. These people don’t particularly like Jared Diamond, either.

Regardless of the term, the Spanish conquest seems to have had more negative consequences, including some that continued (and are probably continuing) well into the future. One of these was the Caste War of Yucatan, which was a 50+ year war in the Yucatan between the Mexican federal government and the Mayans, who were trying to establish and maintain an independent state. One of the more memorable pieces in that exhibit was a bust of one of the Mayan generals—it was a facial reconstruction based on his skull, which had been placed in a now-defunct Yucatanean museum as a war trophy in the 1870s.

Despite all this, Maya languages and traditions still seem to be quite widespread—a lot of the exhibit signs were in Mayan, in addition to Spanish and sometimes English, and the first exhibits about the Maya were about contemporary Mayans. Those displays had a lot of crafts, including some traditional embroidery patterns:

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