Drents Museum – Maya: Rulers of the Rainforest

Period: January 2015 – July 2016
Project leader: Vincent van Vilsteren
Content: Sanne Koch
Education department: Tanja Annen
Communication department: Paul Klarenbeek & Yvet de Boer
Manager public services: Ellen ter Hofstede


From 28 February until 4 September 2016 the Drents Museum in the Dutch town of Assen has focused on the Maya. The major international archaeological exhibition The Maya – Rulers of the Rainforest was an exploration of the fascinating Mayan culture and a treasure trove of magnificent Mayan objects. The exhibited treasures, mostly from the period from AD 200 until 900, provided an impression of this intriguing high civilisation. Many of the objects that travelled to Assen from Mesoamerica have never been on show in Europe before.

How were the Mayan people able to survive in their large cities in the middle of the inhospitable, dangerous rainforest? That’s the key question of this exhibition, which covered all layers of Mayan society, from the mighty Mayan kings surrounded by all their splendour to the peasants without whom the large monumental cities could never have evolved. Maize was of vital importance to the Maya and played a crucial role in their development.

With the recurring theme of the maize cycle – sowing, growing, harvest and rebirth – the exhibition will focus on various aspects of Mayan culture: life at the king’s palace, the Maya’s calendars and extensive knowledge of the universe, their beautiful sculptures telling historical tales and the mysterious world of their gods.

The Drents Museum closely worked together with the Historisches Museum der Pfalz in Speyer (Germany), which will be hosting the exhibition after it has been on show in Assen, and with the German professor Nikolai Grube, a leading international expert on Mayan culture and the Mayan hieroglyphic script. It is thanks to this close cooperation that the organisers have been able to include the latest insights in the field of Mayan archaeology in the exhibition. Most of the exhibits on loan come from Guatemala, from the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología and the Fundación La Ruta Maya (both in Guatemala City). The exhibition will also feature various objects from the Ethnologisches Museum (Berlin), the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum (Cologne) and other museums.

The ultimate goal that the Drents Museum had in mind with this exhibition was to surprise visitors, enrich them and educate them. Hence, the team wanted to create a surprising design that would fit the story of the Maya. They hired Marcel Wouters, whose design included a pyramid in the middle of the exhibition space, where he build vitrines to show the objects. Visitors could walk ‘in’ the pyramid and experience the richness of the collection.

Read the full report here (only available in Dutch): Report Drents Museum

During the research several methods were used to gather our data. A qualitative study (phase 1) was performed to learn about the objects and assumptions of the project group with regard to using the computer games in class. After this, a quantitative study (phase 2) was executed to dive into the experiences of visitors.

The exhibition received an overall score of 8 (out of 10), which is quite high. The design of the exhibition encouraged them to explore and visitors said they felt wonder, inspiration and power after their visit of ‘Maya – Rulers of the Rainforest’. The actual objects shown in the exhibition were of great interest of most visitors, whereas the multimedia received the least attention, as visitors did not clearly see the added value of these items.

Read the full report here (only available in Dutch): Report Drents Museum