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For thousands of years, a variety of distinctive yet interconnected cultures thrived in what is known today as Mexico and Central America. These cultures left behind a legacy of richly carved monuments and elaborate architecture.

Above: Figure of Dancing Man, Mexico, 300-800 CE, 61-1-2

Discover key intellectual developments in this region, including the origins of urbanism, political hierarchies, organized religions, and writing. Divided into seven regional and cultural sections, it stretches geographically from Mexico to the isthmus of Panama. With four towering Maya monuments—the most in any U.S. museum—come face to face with divine kings while learning about the representations of ballgame equipment from the Gulf Coast as the oldest sport in the world. See powerful Aztec sculptures as testaments to a once-great empire, while Olmec pieces made 2,000 years earlier reflect the beginning of a religious revolution that deified maize. Marvel at many ancient artifacts while exploring the traditions of Maya people living today.

What's On View
Metate for corn grinding. A Chama polychrome vase. A gold plaque.

This metate (grinding stone) from Honduras was carved from a single block of volcanic rock and decorated with the head of a serpent. NA11872

A masterful example of Maya painting on ceramics, this vase shows a warrior lord in black body paint accompanied by hieroglyphs giving his name. 38-14-1

This solid gold disk, embossed with the image of a fierce but enigmatic deity, was worn on the chest of a lord from ancient Panama. 40-13-3

View all objects on display in this gallery.

The excavation of Piedras Negras and Stela 14

Stela 14 was one of 40 limestone monuments that originally stood at the site of Piedras Negras, Guatemala. Senior Archivist Alex Pezzati shares more about the excavation and how this and other stelae from Piedras Negras played a key role in the decipherment of Maya history.

Iron Maiden graphic with Maya glyphs.

Pop Archaeology

A match made in heavy metal heaven

British heavy metal band Iron Maiden reached out to resident Maya writing expert Simon Martin, Ph.D., to translate song titles and create hieroglyphs for their 2016 world tour for The Book of Souls.

Kabah, Mexico.


April 3, 2024

The Decline and Fall of Classic Maya Culture, New Finds and Perspectives

Dr. Simon Martin will navigate us through the labyrinthine corridors of discovery, unveiling the very latest advancements that have emerged on the horizon of archaeological and epigraphic research. As we delve deeper into this enthralling narrative, it becomes abundantly clear that the once-obscure recesses of Maya civilization are yielding their secrets to the relentless pursuit of knowledge.

Dig Deeper

Home to more than one million artifacts, the Penn Museum explores human history across 10,000 years. Only a small fraction are on display in the galleries. Explore the rest of the collection online.

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