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Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Meet Dr. Ed Fleming

Dr. Ed FlemingIn the mid-1990s, Ed Fleming participated in an archaeological field school in Belize that was directed by Dr. Jaime Awe. Almost 20 years later, Ed has earned a doctorate in archaeology and is the Science Museum of Minnesota's curator of archaeology, and he has re-connected with his former teacher. Awe served as an advisor on the landmark exhibition that Fleming co-curated with Dr. Marc Levine of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed.

Q. How do you create an accessible storyline out of such a broad topic?
A. We had to ask "What's our lens for looking at the Maya?" We used Pompeii as the lens to look at Roman culture in A Day in Pompeii. Tut was the lens for looking at Egyptian culture in King Tut. This wasn't as easy for Maya. There wasn't a king with the notoriety of King Tut. There wasn't a well-known massive tragic event, like there was in Pompeii, which sealed a city.

Audience research told us that people are really interested in the Maya, but know little about them. We saw that as an opportunity to present the basic nuts and bolts of the Classic Period of Maya civilization. It's interesting—there was no Maya "empire." The individual city-states were culturally connected, but there wasn't a unified political entity. It would be hard to focus on one particular site exclusively and tell the story of an entire culture, so we decided to focus on a crosssection of Maya life—across space and time, and across social structure.

Q. What do you want visitors to take away from Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed?
A. An appreciation for the complexity and diversity of Maya culture. When people think of Maya, they think of a disappeared civilization. That's not the case. People don't disappear. They change; they adapt. With the contemporary Maya, there are deep underpinnings of traditional culture that go back to ancient times.

Q. What's your favorite part of the exhibition?
A. I am really proud to be a part of Maya. The team that worked on it is remarkably talented, and I am privileged to have a front row seat as it unfolds. There are some fun surprises in the exhibition—not so much in a single component— it's more of a spirit.

ink potI like artifacts that tell rich contextual stories. Look for an ink pot from Cahal Pech in Belize. It's a sea shell that's been cut and different sections still have pigments used by the scribes. That's great preservation, and there are no others quite like it. Dr. Awe excavated it from a royal tomb in 2010, so it just came out of the ground. It represents a great mixture of current science and history.