Ball Player Figurines. Image courtesy of the Gilcrease Museum.

Attention art and astronomy lovers!  The Utah Museum of Fine Arts ( has partnered with the Clark Planetarium ( to bring you an amazing Maya experience at a reduced rate.

This summer, the UMFA is hosting Las Artes de México an exhibition celebrating ancient folk, and modern art from Mexico, including artifacts created by the Maya people.  Just down the TRAX line, the Clark Planetarium is showing the star show “Tales of the Maya Skies” in the Hansen Dome Theater.  Produced by Chabot Space and Science Center.  “Tales of the Maya Skies” uses full dome digital technology to transport us back into the world of the Maya, taking us through the jungles, cities, and temples of Chich’en Itzá and exploring Maya observations of solstices, solar eclipses, and planetary movements.

You can experience both activities for the price of one by picking up a coupon at the UMFA and/or Clark Planetarium, or by printing a coupon here.

A featured story in the UMFA exhibition and Clark Planetarium star show is that of the Maya ballgame.  Legend states that a man named Hun Hunahpu and his brother Vucub Hunahpu were playing ball near the Xibalba (the Mayan underworld).  Their playing was so loud that it upset the lords of Xibalba, who plotted to silence the boys.  Owls were sent to lure Hun and Vucub to the underworld ball court for their final game.  When the boys arrived they were captured, sacrificed, and buried under the ball court.  A passing goddess eventually came upon the burial site, causing Hun Hunahpu’s head to suddenly split in two, which enabled the goddess to conceive and deliver twin boys named Hunahpu and Xbalaque.

The twins found their father’s playing equipment and began to play the ballgame, and again the lords of Xibalba were annoyed at the disturbance.  The lords lured the boys down to Xibalba, but the twins were clever and eventually defeated the lords.  After they climbed out of the underworld and up to the surface, they continued to climb higher and higher, until they reached the sky to become Sun and Moon.

The ballgame was a religious ceremony in Maya, Olmec, and other Mesoamerican cultures that originated over 3,000 years ago.  While the rules and significance of the sport varied over time and in different cultures, it was often symbolic of warfare and included human sacrifice.  In the Maya cosmos, as in other Mesoamerican theologies, North indicated the heavens and South the underworld.  Ball courts were often positioned as a symbolic bridge between the two worlds.

Learn more about the ballgame and the Maya people through Las Artes de México and “Tales of the Maya Skies,” on view through September 26, 2010.


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