Time for a few more quick updates.
Outsiders’ views of the Maya have long been subject to changing intellectual fashions. Until the 1950s, academics often depicted the ancient Mayas as an idyllic, peaceful culture devoted to astronomy and mathematics. Evidence has since emerged that, even at their height, the Mayas fought bloody and sometimes apocalyptic wars among themselves, lending somewhat more credence to Gibson’s approach.
Warrior-kings and priests directed periodic wars among the ancient Maya aimed at capturing slaves or prisoners for labor or human sacrifice. Entire cities were destroyed by the wars, and whole forests cut down to build the temples.
The latest trendy theory is a largely Internet-based rumor that the Mayan long-count calendar predicts a global calamity on Dec. 22, 2012. Some have woven that together with prophecies from the Bible.
Mauricio Amuy, a non-Maya actor who participated in the filming of Apocalypto, says the production staff discussed the theory on the set.
“We know the Bible talks about prophecies, and that the Mayas spoke of a change of energy on Dec. 22, 2012, and it (the movie) is somewhat focused on that,” Amuy said. “People should perhaps take that theory and reflect, and not do these things that are destroying humanity.”
The story centers on a kidnapped hero’s bid to escape a mass sacrifice at one Maya center. According to another description of the plot in Time magazine’s March preview, a ruler orders the mass sacrifice of hapless captives to appease the gods and avert a drought.
The only problem, and big cause for worry among archaeologists, is “the classic Maya really didn’t go in for mass sacrifice,” Lucero says. “That was the Aztecs.” Other concerns: the modern-day Mayan Yucatec language spoken in the film is not the language of the ancient Maya, and the film’s Mexican shooting locale is not the classic Maya homeland, says Penn State archaeologist David Webster. . . .
Gibson has consulted on the film with archaeologist Richard Hansen, head of the Mirador Basin Project in northern Guatemala, a forest reserve home to a number of Maya archaeological sites. Hansen also declined to comment, other than to say that project findings played a role in the film.
The classic Maya were one of the most developed cultures of Central America before the arrival of Columbus. The Maya practiced slash-and-burn and terrace farming, relying on corn as a staple, and repairing in the dry season to ceremonial centers holding monumental pyramids, plazas and temples.
In 1989, discoveries by Hansen and colleagues established that Maya rulers had centralized their roles far earlier than once supposed, building several massive centers with the help of commoners as early as 600 B.C. The classic Maya culture’s history lasted for more than 1,000 years, ending around A.D. 850 with the collapse of the use of ceremonial centers in what are now parts of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
Scholars still disagree over the extent to which war, drought or general political failure led to the collapse. . . .
Meanwhile, the New York Times posts the latest in a long line of articles about the challenges faced by the film, both at the box office and in terms of the current awards-season hype.
UPDATE: Consider also this piece by Traci Arden, an expert on Mayan culture, at the website for Archaeology magazine — but be warned, she gives away at least one major spoiler, and as I see it, she completely misinterprets the film at that particular point.
4. I don’t know how “legit” this is, but someone has posted the entire Jesus Camp — all 84 minutes of it — here. This may prove useful for those who live in parts of the world — like Canada — where the controversial documentary has not yet opened.
UPDATE: Never mind, the video’s been taken down, already.