Heavenly Jade of the Maya


Editorial Review

Shades of jade for the doomsday crowd
By Maura Judkis
Friday, December 21, 2012

The world probably isn’t going to end on Dec. 21, when the Mayan calendar does, and the rare Mayan artifacts in a new exhibition at the Inter-American Development Bank definitely aren’t cursed. But the team putting together the show, “Heavenly Jade of the Maya,” is putting forth a small offering of rum -- a toast to the people who once revered these artifacts -- just in case.

“It’s for peace of mind,” says Ivan Duque Márquez, chief of IDB’s cultural, solidarity and creativity affairs division.

In another eerie stroke, the artifacts, some of which are on public display for the first time, arrived at IDB on 12/12/12, another inauspicious date rumored to bring the end of the world.

The courier from Guatemala was even nervous about opening the crate, says Debra Corrie, IDB’s art collection coordinator.

So far, so good. Besides, the Maya, who are still a functioning society, never predicted the end of the world. In fact, their calendar has ended before, and quite uneventfully. Mayan calendars track cycles of time, and when the present era, or Bak’tun, comes to an end, the Maya will welcome the new one with a huge celebration.

“They talked about a change of the energy cycle,” Márquez says of the new era. And interestingly enough, he adds, “they said there was going to be a change in power being more heavily concentrated in women.” (Jump in that 2016 presidential betting pool now, folks.)

Visitors will be able to see some of the Maya’s most precious objects, including carved jade jewelry and mosaics. Jade was considered to be more valuable than gold, and nobles flaunted it to show their status. Masks, pottery and figurines -- some of which had never left Guatemala and a few that had never been exhibited -- also are on display. The artifacts are set up to reflect the position and manner in which they were discovered by archaeologists.

The exhibition may attract doomsday preppers with a morbid curiosity about the Maya, but Márquez is fine with that.

“People are giving more attention to the Mayans and the gossip about the end of the world, but I think that . . . it’s a great opportunity for people to have a connection with Latin America,” he says. “They developed mathematics and language with symbols. They thought of an interesting political organization. They had the structure of a scientific community.”

And if the end-of-days crowd is right, how will IDB’s cultural team spend its last day on Earth?

“We’ll be in the exhibition room waiting for people to come see the Mayans,” Márquez says.