UCL News


Press cutting: Maya archaeologist Elizabeth Graham on 'Apocalypto'

8 January 2007

If 'Apocalypto' is supposed to bear some relation to Maya civilisation, then I have to hate it.

It conflates 2,000 years of Maya history into a single period - the equivalent, in Britain, of setting one story in a time stretching from the Roman occupation to the death of Elizabeth I, disregarding changes in language, religion and culture.

The village of Jaguar Paw, the hero, is perplexing. The houses look like cages. There is no evidence of farming, weaving or maize-processing, but in real life, the Maya were farmers from at least 2,000BC. They built stout houses on platforms faced with well-cut stone. Men farmed plots and grew maize, beans, squash and cacao. …

The film closes with the idea of a new beginning for the humble forest-dwelling Maya. This is hard to swallow. The Spaniards who conquered the Maya in Belize used "war dogs" trained to eat human flesh. The soldiers cut off ears, noses and hands. They plundered villages and raped survivors. Such was the new beginning.

Gibson's film, to me, is simply the latest in a long line of justifications for European displacement of Amerindian peoples. …

Dr Elizabeth Graham (UCL Institute of Archaeology), 'The Guardian'