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In 2021, MAMUZ Museum Mistelbach has an exhibition on the fascinating culture of the Maya, and is therefore presenting a comprehensive Maya exhibition in Austria for the first time in 25 years. The exhibition takes an in-depth look at the Mayan living environment in both the tropical lowlands and the volcanic highlands of Guatemala. How did the people, despite the difficult climatic conditions, manage to feed such a large population without destroying their environment? How did they organise the way they lived together? And what were the reasons for the decline of the early advanced civilisation? Surprisingly modern issues come to light when taking a look at the Maya. 200 original exhibits from Guatemala are being presented and provide fascinating insights into the rich history of the Maya.

Deep in the jungle of Central America, the impressive stone temple pyramids and palaces of the fascinating Mayan culture still stand today. In their heyday between 250 and 900 AD, they formed a powerful advanced civilisation whose cultural achievements still amaze us today: they invented a precise calendar, learned to live in harmony with the tropical ecosystem and developed a complex hieroglyphic script. Their settlement areas in the rainforests of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador were the regions with the highest population density worldwide at the time.

New knowledge about the Maya

For a long time, Europeans were unaware of the once most powerful culture of the American continent. Only in the last decades have archaeologists, historians and writing researchers rediscovered the Maya and learned amazing things. “By using new technologies and deciphering the Maya script there has been a radical change in our understanding of Mayan culture in recent years. We now realise that the Maya were not only the most important civilisation of Ancient America but also understand how the people lived, dreamed and thought,” explains curator Nikolai Grube.

The special exhibition “MAYA” at MAMUZ presents the latest research findings on agriculture, religion, social order and the political relations of the Mayan kingdoms. Visitors learn how people lived in the cities, in the countryside and at the magnificent royal courts. It is also explained that the Mayan culture certainly did not disappear after the collapse of the great Mayan cities, the climatic challenges and the arrival of the Spanish invaders, but rather continued – albeit in a much smaller number – and shifted to other areas of Mesoamerica. This is because there was hardly any other society that understood as well as the Maya how to continually adapt to new living conditions.

“The exhibition takes us on an exciting voyage of discovery to America and shows us a complex society which, in its development, is very much comparable to the early advanced civilisations in Europe. With seemingly simple means, the Maya succeeded in establishing a highly developed civilisation in the middle of the tropical rainforest. It is amazing how a society could live for more than a thousand years in such a fragile ecosystem,” says Franz Pieler, Scientific Director of MAMUZ.

Exhibition of objects from Guatemala

The exhibition includes 200 original objects from Guatemala, most of which have never been seen before in Europe. Around half of the objects in the collection are being shown in an exhibition for the first time worldwide. One particular highlight is the unprecedented wide range of exhibits made of jade in a European Maya exhibition, including pieces of jade jewellery that shed light on the magnificent clothing of the Maya rulers. Steles with hieroglyphic inscriptions tell of the Maya’s world view and are presented to visitors with translations. The selection of objects is unique and has never before been presented in this form in an exhibition.

The exhibits are all on loan from the collection of the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología (MUNAE), the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of Guatemala. “A special feature of the exhibition is that the lawful origin of all exhibits is guaranteed. Without exception, the objects originate from legally conducted archaeological excavations in Guatemala. In this way we want to take our responsibility as a European museum seriously and, out of respect for the Maya, we are not displaying any cultural assets that have been unlawfully acquired or appropriated,” explains Peter Fritz, Managing Director of MAMUZ.

In addition to the original objects, the exhibition contains media stations, photo shows, artefacts to touch and play stations for children, so that visitors can experience Mayan culture with all their senses.

Curation & contributors

The exhibition “MAYA” was created in cooperation between MAMUZ and Museumspartner GmbH and is supported by Patrimonio Cultural y Natural (General Directorate of Cultural and Natural Heritage), Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes (Ministry of Culture and Sports) and Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología (National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology) of Guatemala.

The curator is Nikolai Grube, Professor of Ancient American Studies and Ethnology at the University of Bonn. His research has made a significant contribution to deciphering the Maya script and to the study of the royal dynasties of the Maya. He has been involved in numerous archaeological projects in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and Mexico and is currently heading the archaeological project Uxul in the south of the state of Campeche in Mexico.

Workshop Changes - impacts and opportunities

In addition to classic exhibition tours, MAMUZ Museum Mistelbach offers a special workshop on the subject of “Changes - impacts and opportunities”.

Epidemics, climate change, new power relations, scarcity of resources and also the urge to continue developing force societies - like the Maya long ago - to change. In this workshop participants ask themselves the questions: What do changes bring about in me? Why do I find some easier and others really difficult? In a pleasant atmosphere, they reflect on past and future changes, whether at school, at work or during leisure time, as well as on their impacts and opportunities for further development.

For more information on guided tours and workshops for groups and school classes, please contact us at 02572/20719 or




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