Prehistory and Ancient History Gallery

Special [Past]

National Museum of Korea Holds Special Exhibition Maya 2012

  • Location

    Special Exhibition Gallery

  • Date2012-09-04~2012-10-28



From September 4 to October 28 in the Special Exhibition Gallery, the National Museum of Korea (Director Kim Youngna) presents the special exhibition Maya 2012, which introduces the legendary Mayan civilization. The exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of Korea’s diplomatic relations with both Mexico and Guatemala, and will feature about 200 Mayan artifacts on loan from both countries. Such a large exhibition featuring Mayan relics from both Mexico and Guatemala is exceptionally rare not only in Korea, but throughout the world.


The splendid Mayan civilization flourished for about 3,000 years (1500 BCE to 1500 CE) in the tropical jungles of Mesoamerica. The Mayans built massive architectural structures without wheels or steel equipment, and also had the most sophisticated, complex writing system in the world at the time. They made astonishingly precise astronomical observations using only the naked eye, which they used to create the most accurate pre-modern calendar. Yet despite these achievements, they suddenly disappeared from the stage of history. Hence, the mystery and intrigue surrounding the Mayan civilization continues to fascinate us to this day.


The exhibition is divided into two major themes: Mayan views of the world and history, and the rise and fall of the Mayan civilization. The first part features artifacts from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that are on loan from the Museum of Anthropology of Mexico, including images of the Mayan King, who was considered an agent of God with absolute power, and relics related to the Mayan calendar and prophecy. Representative artifacts include a stone statue called Chac-Mool and a stone slate with characters referring to Venus. Another important piece is an incense burner featuring Kin, the sun god, who was worshipped as the creator of life and was the focus of most of the Mayans’ major rituals.


The second part examines the life and death of the Mayan people, covering the history of their civilization from its emergence to its mysterious decline. This part presents Mayan hieroglyphs, which are considered the most systematic characters in the Americas. Major artifacts, on loan from the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of Guatemala, include cylinders engraved with the Mayan calendar and a whistle figure shaped like a man playing a musical instrument. In addition, a shell ornament adorned with the “god of death” exemplifies the Mayan’s excellent workmanship, while also evidencing active trade in shells and jades of the Mayans.


The Mayan civilization is capturing the world’s attention in 2012, as many experts believe that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world in December 2012. A slew of films and books about the possible apocalypse have been released, and polls have indicated that as much as 10% of the world’s population believes in the eschatology of the Mayan calendar. This exhibition explains why the Mayans were so obsessed with the calendar, and also presents recent research and opinions from experts about the Mayan calendar and the doomsday predictions, revealing that what the Mayan calendar predicts is not actually the end of the world, but a new beginning.


The special exhibition Maya 2012 is part of NMK’s World Civilization Series, which was organized to introduce those civilizations that have had the most significant impact on human history, and we are sure that it will make as deep an impression and provide as much excitement as the previous exhibitions in the series


Shell Ornament

7th-8th Century (Guatemala), Height- 15.8 cm
National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (Guatemala)


Ixchel (Mayan Goddess)

7th-8th Century (Mexico), Height- 13.3 cm
Museum of Anthropology (Palacio Canton, Mexico)