San Diego CA–October 24, 2012 — A new full-dome digital planetarium show, TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES, debuts on November 9 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’s Euegene Heikoff and Marilyn Jacobs Heikoff Dome Theater. Produced by Chabot Space & Science Center, TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES presents the rich history and culture of the ancient Maya civilization at Chichén Itzá, immersing audiences in Maya science, art and mythology.

The Maya built cities and temples aligned to the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets, as they observed, documented and predicted astronomical events with great accuracy. Their observations and sophisticated mathematical system also allowed them to develop a precise calendar system that fascinates the world to this day. Their mythology explained to them the origins of their people according to laws of the sky and earth, and many of the tales are recounted in TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES.

With unprecedented realism, TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES inspires and educates audiences about the Maya’s achievements in detailing how astronomy connected them to the universe. Latin Grammy Award-winner Lila Downs narrates as viewers are transported to Maya cities and temples in the jungles of Mexico. The Maya made sense of an ever- changing world by observing, recording and predicting natural events such as solstices, solar eclipses, weather patterns and planetary movements. Over many years, they observed and documented astronomical events with great accuracy. These observations, in combination with a sophisticated mathematical system, allowed the Maya to develop a precise calendar system.

“Understanding and appreciating the Maya and their perceptions of the world are at the core of this story,” said Alexander Zwissler, Executive Director/CEO of Chabot Space & Science Center and the Executive Producer of TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES. This innovative show blends the latest technology with ancient Maya science and culture, immersing the audience in the wonders of Chichén Itzá.

Using three-dimensional laser scanning and advanced computer generated graphic techniques, the virtual reconstruction of architecture in TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES also supports archeologists in interpreting the ancient sites, contributing to their conservation.

Funding for the production of TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Instituto Politécnico Nacional. It is the first full-dome digital show highlighting a Latin American culture, and Spanish language narration is available for every screening through complimentary headsets available at no charge at the Fleet Ticket Counter. TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES is being shown in planetariums in the United States, Latin America and around the world.

TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES opens Friday, November 9, 2012, and will run in an open-ended engagement. The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center Heikoff Dome Theater is located at 1875 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101. Digital film admission (1 film + access to all exhibit galleries): Adults $15.75; Children $12.75; Seniors $12.75. The Fleet’s normal hours are Monday–Thursday 10AM–5PM, Friday & Saturday: 10AM– 8PM, and Sunday: 10AM–6PM. For information on tickets and showtimes, call (619) 238-1233 or visit our website at



Background Material:


Immerse yourself in the beauty of Chichén Itzá, Mexico, the “seventh wonder of the modern world.” Listen to the story of the ancient Maya civilization. With unprecedented realism, TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES immerses us in Maya science, art and mythology, using full-dome digital technology to transport us back into the world of the Maya. Produced by Chabot Space & Science Center, TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES inspires and educates through its description of the Maya’s accurate astronomical achievements and how astronomy connected them to the universe.

Latin Grammy Award-winner Lila Downs narrates as TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES brings us back to the ancient jungles of Mexico, where the Maya built cities and temples aligned to movements of the Sun, Moon and planets. Over many years they observed and documented astronomical events with great accuracy. They made sense of an ever-changing world by observing, recording and predicting natural events such as solstices, solar eclipses, weather patterns and planetary movements. These observations, in combination with a sophisticated mathematical system, allowed them to develop a precise calendar system; their measurements of the length of the solar year were more accurate than measurements the Europeans used as the basis of the Gregorian calendar. The Maya also predicted eclipses, were able to forecast seasonal changes and developed the concept of mathematical zero, enabling them to predict events into the future.

TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES weaves together this rich combination of science, culture and legend, immersing viewers in the sounds and sights of an ancient way of life. Recent deciphering of the Maya hieroglyphics is providing archeologists with new and exciting discoveries. Using three-dimensional laser scanning and advanced graphic techniques, the virtual reconstruction of architecture in TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES also supports these archeologists in interpreting the ancient sites, and contributes to their conservation.

Funding for the production of TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Instituto Politécnico Nacional. It is the first full-dome digital show highlighting a Latin American culture, and Spanish language narration is available. TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES is showing in planetariums in the United States, Latin America and around the world.

TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES tells the story of how the ancient Maya interwove astronomy and culture to create a stable society that spanned 2,000 years, from 500 BCE to 1500 CE. Maya culture, life, architecture and legends were intertwined with the ancient Maya’s scientific observation and recording of planetary movements. The ancient Maya achieved an unparalleled understanding of astronomy. They developed an advanced system of mathematics that allowed them to create a set of calendars unrivaled in the ancient world.

Their logo-syllabic (symbols representing either a syllable or a word) writing system has fascinated linguists for centuries and has only recently been decoded.

The show is set primarily at Chichén Itzá, one of the last great city states of the Maya classic/post classic period. This site is renowned for the alignment of its temples to the Sun and Venus and for the glyphs representing deities associated with the Sun and Venus.


By observing patterns of Venus, the Maya could predict rainy and dry seasons and plan agriculture activities and associated ceremonies. By observing the patterns of the Sun and Moon, the Maya created a precise and accurate calendar used to mark the seasons. The calendar was based on a sophisticated base-20 mathematical system incorporating the concept of zero. Maya stories, traditions and architecture illustrate what the Maya knew about astronomy and the role it played in daily life. 1. As a result of ongoing celestial observation and recording, patterns were discerned and used to predict and guide the practical and cosmological life of the Maya. Cycles of nature and astronomy were ritualized and recorded by the Maya in art and books, incorporated into the alignment of buildings and monitored by a complex and accurate calendar system. The scientific method of ongoing observation and recording of patterns that was used by the ancient Maya is integral to the scientific process used today. Over seven million Maya currently live in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, the United States and other countries around the world.


Seasonal change occurs as a result of the tilt of the Earth and the light absorbed as the Earth orbits the Sun. A total solar eclipse occurs at predictable and precise times and is a result of the passing of the Moon between the Sun and Earth. The apparent erratic movements of Venus, observable with the naked eye, occur as a result of the Sun’s glare blocking our view of Venus when the Earth, Venus and the Sun are perfectly aligned. The movements of Venus repeat themselves in an eight-year cycle. The Maya developed a sophisticated system of mathematics based on a place value of 20. They were one of few ancient cultures to use the concept of zero, allowing them to count into the millions. Using their sophisticated mathematical system, the ancient Maya developed precise and accurate calendars.


The ancient Maya used astronomical knowledge to guide their lives. Maya kings and day keepers affirmed their power and assuaged the fears of their people by demonstrating their ability to predict astronomical events. The cosmological beliefs and daily life of the Maya were artfully recorded in books and paintings and carved into stone. While these stone carvings are decorative, their sole purpose was to record events during the reign of kings. Nature and cosmology were interwoven into the artwork and life of the Maya.


The ancient Maya had the most advanced system of mathematics of any ancient civilization in the Americas, and quite possibly in Europe and Asia. The Maya were one of the first ancient cultures to use the concept of zero, which allowed them to write and calculate large sums.

Maya numbers are written using three symbols, a shell image for zero, a dot representing one, and a bar for five.

Different combinations of bars and dots represent numbers 6–19.

Numbers larger than 19 are represented using powers of 20.

Place value 20 numbers are recorded inside rows in vertical columns. Each ascending row has the value of a power of 20 (1, 20, 400, 800, etc.). The number (1–19) within each row is multiplied by the place value of that row, and the results are summed for the entire column.


Number glyphs were widely used in the inscriptions on Maya stone carvings and in their books. Many Maya gods and rulers have numbers as part of their names. Maya number glyphs were also used to write dates that would appear on calendars. The Maya believe that the Earth was created on the day 4 Ahaw 8 Kumku, in the year 3114 B.C.E.


Ancient Maya writing used hieroglyphs, pictorial representations, that were carved in stone and other materials, painted on pottery and murals or written in books. Glyphs were used for writing, not for the purpose of decoration. The hieroglyphic code of the Maya was undecipherable to modern scholars until quite recently.

Now it is understood that the Maya script was a logo-syllabic system. Individual symbols (“glyphs”) could represent either a word or a syllable; indeed, the same glyph could often be used for both.

Maya glyphs appeared on the faces of buildings, on carvings, in books and murals. They described the everyday life of the cities and rulers and were also used to record astrological and astronomical events.

Maya scribes played a crucial role in the court as the keepers of information, as the commoners in ancient Maya society were most likely illiterate. It was the scribe’s role to preserve the power of the king through writing. Scribes could be men or women, were in the upper class, and lived in luxury, beholden to the king.

There are about 30 vowel and consonant sounds in the Maya language.


a sounds like “ah” as in father

e sounds like “eh” in left

i sounds like the double “ee” in tree

o sounds like the “o” in bone

u sounds like the double “oo” in zoo


b at the end of a word is pronounced as a p

c is always pronounced like the English k

ch is pronounced as tsh

j is pronounced as a hard h

l is almost silent at the end of a word

pp is pronounced as an explosive p

th is pronounced as an explosive t

ts is pronounced as the first ch in church

tz or dz is pronounced just as it looks

x is pronounced sh

A crop mark, ‘, indicates a sudden stop between sounds.


There are more than seven million Maya living today in the Americas and Europe. They do not create glyphs as the ancients did, but their language is still unique.

30 Maya languages are spoken in Mesoamerica; 10 linguistic families with about three language variants each. People who speak languages from different linguistic families cannot typically understand each other. The ancient hieroglyphic script is most closely related to the following spoken languages today: Chorti (near Copan in Honduras), Yucatec (Yucatan peninsula) and Chol (near Palenque in Chiapas).

One of the largest linguistic groups speaks Yucatec Mayan. Some examples of how English phrases would sound in Yucatec Mayan follow.

“Hi, how are you all?” in English would be “Bix a belex” in Maya (pronounced Beesh ah behlehsh).

“I am fine” in English would be “Maloob” (pronounced Mah-lohb).

“Thank you” in English would be “Yum botic” (pronounced Yoom boh-teek).

“You’re welcome” in English would be “Mixba’a” (pronounced Meesh-ba-a).

The POPOL VUH is the most important source of information on the mythology of the ancient Maya. A sacred book of the Quiché Maya of Guatemala, it was written down in the mid-1500s. A Spanish priest discovered the Popol Vuh manuscript in the early 1700s. After copying the text, he translated it into Spanish.

The Popol Vuh is divided into five parts. The first contains an account of the creation of the world and of the failed attempts to produce proper human beings. The second and third parts tell of the adventures of the Hero Twins, Hunahpú and Xbalanqúe, and their forebears. The last two parts deal with the issue of creating humans from corn and then tell the story of the Quiché people, from the days before their history began to accounts of tribal wars and records of rulers up until 1550.

Creation of the World. At the beginning of time, the gods Hurucan and Gugumatz (also known as Quetzalcoatl) shaped the Earth and its features and raised the sky above it. The gods then placed animals on the Earth, hoping that they would sing the praises of the gods.

When the gods discovered that the animals could not speak, they tried again to make a creature that could praise its creator. Hurucan and Gugumatz called on the ancestral beings Xpiacoc and Xmucane to help, and together they created men of mud. However, these creatures talked endlessly and dwindled away. Next the gods fashioned humans out of wood. These beings populated the earth but soon forgot about their creators. The angry gods sent floods and various objects to destroy them.

The Hero Twins. In Part Two of the Popol Vuh, Hunahú and Xbalanqúe appear and take on the self-important Vucub-Caquix, as well as his sons, Zipacna and Earthquake. Using blowpipes, the twins knocked out Vucub-Caquix's jeweled teeth, which gave him his radiance. Vucub-Caquix accepted corn as a replacement for his teeth. But because he could not eat with his corn teeth and because they did not shine, he was defeated.

In Part Three of the Popol Vuh, the story goes back to an earlier time to Hun-Hunahpú and Vucub Hunahpú, the father and uncle of the Hero Twins. These two disturbed the lords of Xibalba, the underworld, with their constant ball playing. The lords commanded the brothers to come to the underworld for a contest. Tricked by the lords, the brothers lost the contest and, as a result, were sacrificed and buried in the ball court. However, the head of Hun-Hunahpú remained unburied and was placed in a tree.

A young goddess named Xquic heard of a strange fruit in a tree and went to see it. The fruit was actually the head of Hun-Hunahpú, which spat in her hand and made her pregnant. She later gave birth to the Hero Twins. Hun-Hunahpú already had another set of twins, Hun Batz and Hun Chuen, who resented their baby brothers. When the Hero Twins grew old enough, they outsmarted the older twins and turned them into monkeys.

The Hero Twins became great ballplayers, as their father and uncle had been, and one day the lords of Xibalba summoned them to the underworld for a contest. The twins saw this as an opportunity to avenge their father's death. Challenged to a series of trials, they passed every one they were given. They survived a night in the House of Cold, escaped death in the House of Jaguars and passed unharmed through the House of Fire. They almost met defeat in the House of Bats, when a bat cut off Hunahpú's head. The lords of Xibalba took the head to the ball court as a trophy, but Xbalanqúe managed to return the head to his brother and restore him.

Knowing they were immortal, the Hero Twins now allowed the lords of Xibalba to defeat and "kill" them. Five days later, the twins reappeared, disguised as wandering performers, and entertained the lords with amazing feats. In one of these feats, Xbalan-qúe sacrificed Hunahpú and then brought him back to life. Astounded, the lords of Xibalba begged to be sacrificed themselves. The Hero Twins agreed to the request but did not restore the lords of Xibalba to life. The twins then dug up the bodies of their father and uncle and brought them back to life.

History. The final two parts of the Popol Vuh tell how the ancestral couple once again tried to make humans who would praise the gods. The four men they created from maize became the founders of the Quiché Maya. These people praised their creators and flourished. The generations that followed them are listed in the closing section of the Popol Vuh. From:


Narrator Lila Downs is a Latin Grammy Award-winning singer and song writer. Her music taps into the native Mesoamerican music of the Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya and Nahuatl cultures. Ms. Downs grew up in both the United States and Mexico, but returned permanently to Mexico where she developed her unique musical and performing style. Ms. Downs appeared in the movie Frida singing Burn it Blue, a song that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. Lila Downs’ film credits include songs in Tortilla Soup, Real Women Have Curves and Fados. She has released six albums including Shake Away, La Canhuga, Una Sangre, La Sandunga, Border, Tree of Life, and most recently, The Very Best of Lila Downs. While based in Mexico City, Ms. Downs regularly tours internationally where she receives outstanding reviews.

Script Writer Carol Karasik is a writer and editor who has worked on books and films in the fields of anthropology, art, ecology and educational philosophy. During the past twenty years she has edited a number of books on Maya culture, including Mayan Tales from Zinacantán: Dreams and Stories from the People of the Bat, Living Maya and Every Woman Is a World: Interviews with Women of Chiapas. Ms. Karasik has worked as a writer on a variety of documentary films aired on PBS. She received a National Endowment for the Humanities award for her script on Maya civilization. Her poems have appeared in Grant Street, La Jicara, and Blue Light, Red Light. Corazon Abriendo, a multi-media dance piece based on Maya weaving, for which she wrote the text, is now being performed in the U.S. and Mexico.

Script Writer Alonso Mendez, of Tzeltal Maya heritage, was born in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. He attended high school and college on the East Coast of the U.S., majoring in art and literature. He moved back to Chiapas in 1995. Mr. Mendez’s skills as an artist, an ecologist and a builder combined with his personal interest in the ancient Maya made him a welcome addition to archaeological teams working at the ruins. Mr. Mendez has worked at the ruins of Palenque for the last five years as a project artist, a surveyor and an archaeologist. He has also advised and participated in several National Science Foundation projects involving the Maya. He leads tour groups who wish to visit and learn about the major Maya sites, and lectures internationally on the Maya’s worldview.

Composer Michael Stearns is a composer, sound designer, and soundtrack producer. His credits include music and soundtrack production for television, feature films, planetariums, theme parks, World Fairs, twenty- two IMAX films and seventeen solo albums. He has created music for Disney Films, HBO, ABC’s The World of Explorers, 20/20, Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Ron Fricke’s non-verbal global film masterpieces Chronos, Sacred Site and Baraka. He produced the soundtracks to Universal’s Back To The Future, The Ride and Paramount’s Star Trek, The Experience. His music has been used by NASA and Laserium and has been choreographed by the Berkshire Ballet.


Director Arne Jin An Wong, Tigerfly Studios, comes from a successful directing career of 40 years. He started in the 2D traditional Disney-style animation, and then moved into the transformational years of 2.5D, arriving at the 3D digital animation period that prevails today. He has won an Emmy (Best Animated Short Film 1981) for Bean Sprouts and a Clio (Best Animated TV Commercial 1986) for Sunkist Orange, among many other awards. Some of his credits include such films/TV shows as Heavy Metal, Tron, Dora the Explorer, Catdog, and Universal Studio’s Terminator Ride, to name a few. Mr. Wong teaches animation and storyboarding at the Academy of Art University and Expressions College of Digital Media. His working/teaching appointments have taken him to China, France, Taiwan and Japan. He is now directing 3D Digital Full Dome Shows.

Producer Konda Mason, Savannah Films, experienced immediate success in the Hollywood film industry executive producing her first short film, Tuesday Morning Ride, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the short film category. Developing an interest in documentaries, Ms. Mason produced for Warner Home Video two one-hour documentaries as a part of The Ultimate Matrix Collection Box Set, called Roots of the Matrix. She also directed and produced a documentary on the political comedian Margaret Cho, which is featured on Ms.

Cho’s DVD Assassin. For 10 years, Ms. Mason worked as a post-production producer in the television commercial business in Los Angeles. Most notably, she post produced the 2005 Super Bowl Best Commercial The Intelligent Shoe for Adidas, directed by Spike Jonze. Concurrently with working in commercials, Ms. Mason has been the post production producer for Project Lab/EMP, Inc., a small production company that creates documentary content for many Warner Bros. titles and other Hollywood studios. In addition to a standard definition delivery, she has supervised the repurposing of content for the Blu-Ray disk format for The Matrix trilogy and 300. Through her company, Savanna Films, Ms. Mason is currently raising money for the documentary Madame President, which she is producing and directing. It is a documentary television series about the 12 currently seated female Presidents and Prime Ministers in the world today.

As Executive Producer, Chabot Space & Science Center (Chabot) has oversight on production, including budget and delivery. Chabot monitors the production of TALES OF THE MAYA SKIES to ensure that its content meets the requirements of our National Science Foundation grant award and their goal to inspire and educate students of all ages. Since 1883, Chabot Space & Science Center has been providing inspirational science education to the diverse community we serve. Chabot’s rich history is coupled with the latest technology in a fun-filled, hands-on center where questions about our universe, which includes our own planet, are explored and answered. Its observatory, planetarium, exhibits and natural park setting are a place where a diverse population of students, teachers and the public can imagine, understand and learn to shape their future through science.

A Chabot Space & Science Center production

Major funding provided by the National Science Foundation

Narrated by Lila Downs