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New digital planetarium show about the Maya opens at the Fleet

“Tales of the Maya Skies,” the latest digital planetarium show to open at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, presents the history and culture of ancient Maya civilization at Chichén Itzá in Mexico. The film explores how the Maya made sense of the world by observing, recording and predicting natural events such as solstices, solar eclipses, weather patterns and planetary movements. Funded by the National Science Foundation, it uses the latest techniques in 3D laser scanning and computer graphics -- a presentation made all the more stunning when displayed across the Fleet's dome theatre.

Southwestern College Professor of Art History Mark Van Stone, Ph.D., has become a go-to man for all things Maya. Specializing in Maya hieroglyphs and calligraphy, his books include “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya” and “Reading the Maya Glyphs.” Recognizing the great public interest in the 2012-related prophecies, he has spent the last few years researching what the ancient Maya actually said about this year (spoiler: don’t spend down your savings account quite yet!).

Mark Van Stone

Van Stone shows the iPad version of his book, “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya.” It includes
videos, interactive maps, and 3D versions of ancient hieroglyphs and artifacts.


Last week, Van Stone dropped by Balboa Park to talk about the film and his research. Excerpts from our discussion are below and you can also check out his interview with KPBS.

Van Stone on December 21, 2012, the so-called Mayan doomsday:

“The misconceptions started with speculations by scholars. Scholars are complicit in this 2012 craziness. The popular books about the Maya started with Sylvanus Morley and Michael Coe. They wrote two college textbooks called ‘The Ancient Maya’ and ‘The Maya’ that exposed Maya scholarship to the general public. In both of them, they talk about the end of the calendar. Could the Maya have believed in the apocalypse? Could the Maya have believed in cycles of time? They were speculating but speculations by scholars are facts to the general public.”

On spending December 21 at Chichén Itzá:

“When we were there last time there was an Elton John concert, and then a Shakira concert. I don’t know who will play this time, maybe Sting. Sting’s a very spiritual guy and into the ancient Maya. I’m hoping he’ll be there when we’re there.”

On the calendar:

“The calendar is fascinating in itself. The fact that people are interested in the calendar because of this apocalypse stuff is a good thing because it draws a spotlight to the calendar. Maybe they’ll stick around and see that it’s a real intellectual achievement.”

On claims the Maya were in contact with aliens:

“People can’t imagine that the Egyptians were capable of building the pyramids with essentially stone-age technology. They can’t imagine that the Maya were capable of building their pyramids, their civilization, in the jungle which people still can’t live in because they can’t figure out how to farm like they did. It’s incredibly labor-intensive…people say ‘we can’t live like the Maya did, therefore they must have had help from higher powers.’ ”

On the planetarium show:

“What was interesting to me was the use of game animation technology for education...The filmmakers use some of that technology to recreate Chichén Itzá in a way that’s much more compelling and interesting than just a pile of rocks.”

Maya film

Senior Mondays Lecture with Professor Van Stone

On December 3, Van Stone will speak at the Fleet as part of Senior Mondays activities. The first Monday of every month, seniors 65 and older can enjoy the Fleet’s exhibits, an IMAX film, and educational programming for $7. Van Stone’s talk, “Science and Prophesy of the Ancient Maya,” starts at 12:30pm prior to the 2pm showing of “Tales of the Maya Skies.”

See “Tales of the Maya Skies”

Digital film admission (1 film + access to all exhibit galleries) is $15.75 for adults and $12.75 for children and seniors. It’s the first full-dome digital show highlighting a Latin American culture, and Spanish-language narration is available through complimentary headsets from the Fleet’s ticket counter.

See the Fleet’s website for more information on tickets and show times.


-- Maren Dougherty