People of the Jaguar

Maya rulers used the jaguar as a symbol for the divine right of kings. The Jaguar God inhabited the Underworld, home of the dead. Each morning, he became the Sun God, travelling across the sky to the west, where he fell back into the Underworld. To maintain the cycle of night and day, rulers performed rituals to appease the gods, the controllers of the fate of humankind. Like the Jaguar God, Maya kings defied death by being reborn out of the dreaded Underworld, which the average human could not escape.

The Maya of the Classic period (A.D. 250-900) developed a sophisticated artistic tradition, producing sculpted stone, painted ceramics, clay figurines, and screen-fold bark books of drawings and hieroglyphic writing.

Maya ceramic artists were highly educated members of the elite. They used slip paint, a mixture of finely ground pigment, clay, and water, to decorate their pottery with images of rituals, myths, geometric motifs, and hieroglyphs. Ceramics were used as tableware, currency, symbols of status, and as offerings to the dead. Clay pots were also made for cooking and storing food.

Today, many Maya continue to follow the ancient religion in their ancestral homeland, which spans five countries of Mesoamerica: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

The People of the Jaguar exhibit focuses on authentic Maya pottery decorated with figures and glyphs, as well as certain objects re-created for the IMAX film.

A jaguar playing with a waterlily, both symbols of royalty.

Royal Regalia


Jaguar God mask
Figurine of a noblewoman
Two-faced figurine
Incised shell
Vessel with two shamans
Plate with bird motif
Vessel with three Noblemen
Vessel with four dancing Noblemen
Vessel with crouched figure
Vessel with dancing Snake Man


  • Roll-out photography: 3-D Laser imaging technology developed by the National Research Council Canada and the Canadian Conservation Institute.