Gods and Monsters of the Amazon

Explorer and archaeologist Ed Barnhart discusses ancient Mayan deities and iconography at HMNS.

By Sarah Douglass March 18, 2016

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Discovering an ancient Mayan city at the age of 25 may seem like a peak in one’s career. However, for Ed Barnhart, renowned Latin American archeologist, his discovery in grad school was just the beginning to an accomplished career.

“It was a long time ago, now I feel like I’m talking about my high school football career,” Barnhart jokes about his discovery of Ma'ax Na in northwest Belize.

This coming Tuesday, Barnhart presents a lecture on his groundbreaking work that has unlocked the meanings and iconography of pre-Columbian Peru.

In theme with the Houston Museum of Natural Science Amazon exhibit, Barnhart discusses the many aspects of the ancient culture, including shamanic healing ceremonies, a reinterpretation of ancient Peruvian art, warfare, human sacrifice, erotic sex and deities.

“My belief is that from early, early days there was communication going back and forth between the Amazon, over the Andes and down to the coastal people,” Barnhart said.

By collecting information from encoded messages on the coast, Barnhart has come to the conclusion that there was extensive and continuous contact between the coastal people and those in the Amazon.

Found on the walls of a pilgrimage site in the Andes mountain ranges is a Fanged Deity that has snake and jaguar imagery. “That’s not from the coast, that is from the Amazon, so from the very beginning this city links the Amazon to the coast,” Barnhart explained.

Barnhart’s lecture will dive into the mystery of a Fanged Deity and present evidence that undeniably points to an Amazonian influence on Peru’s ancient coastal cultures.

“The question is, who the heck was in the Amazon? Because up until recently, we didn’t think there were any civilizations beyond just the migrant, nomadic, small tribes in the Amazon,” Barnhart said.

Today, now a seasoned archeologist of 20 years, Barnhart has mapped more than 4,000 ancient buildings and is the Director of Maya Exploration Center and fellow of The Explorers Club.

“Now, I’m trying to solve the mystery of how the Inca put their stone walls so tightly together. I have a theory that they used very strong acids to help fuse the sides together, so I’m working on that,” Barnhart added.

The lecture covers themes of religion, the interpretation of South American art, as well as touching on issues of the environment and the importance of the Amazon.

“I can't wait to come share and I hope that my presentation puts an even more interesting light on this great exhibit the Museum of Natural Science has coming together,” Barnhart said.

March 22. 6;30. $18; $12, members. Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. 713-639-4629.  hmns.org

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