Recently, USA Today published an article in which a number of Maya scholars expressed concerns about the historical accuracy of the film Apocalypto. Mel Gibson's multi-million dollar movie about the Maya is currently in post-production and set for a December 8th release.

USA Today: 'Apocalypto' Now for Mel, Maya and Historians

Apocalypto: The Official Website

In the article, archaeologists Lisa Lucero (New Mexico State University in Las Cruces) and David Webster (Pennsylvania State University) point out that while the plot involves a scene of mass sacrifice, this was relatively unknown in the Classic Maya culture, being a feature rather of the Aztec civilization. Other concerns include the use of the Yukatek language, which was not the language of the Classic Maya, and the filming location of Veracruz, Mexico, a location outside the Maya region.

The first two criticisms stem from the mistaken belief that the film deals with the Classic Maya Collapse. While the movie is about the "end times" of the Maya civilization, this does not refer to the Classic Maya Collapse. The film is actually set in a fictional town on the Yucatan Peninsula in the Late Postclassic period, when mass human sacrifice was well known among the Maya (the site of Chichen Itza has a tzompantli, or "skull rack," where the heads of sacrificial victims were strung up) and where Yukatek was indeed the language of the Maya of the region.

With regard to the third criticism, that the filming location is outside the Classic Maya homeland, it should be noted that there are many areas in the large region of the Yucatan Peninsula that are quite similar to the lowlands of Veracruz, where the movie was filmed. A comment from one of the scholars that filming in the non-Maya area of Mexico is "a little like filming the siege of Troy using Roman backdrops" is perhaps somewhat off the mark in that no Aztec or Totonac ruins are used as backdrops, while tens of millions of dollars were spent on constructing a set of a Postclassic town built around Classic period ruins.



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