Exploring the Mayan World

Rated 4 out of 5 by from EDWIN or ETWIN ? In Episode 4, the professor wrote his first name in Mayan. He showed it as ETWIN. But the prof's first name is actually Edwin. Why the ETWIN when it is written in Mayan? Yes, it is true that those looking for academic contents, this course was not designed for you.
Date published: 2021-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greatest Presenter & Fun We have watched 3 other courses by Dr. Barnhart, and this will be the fourth. He is one of the best presenters, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his material. He has a love for the mayan culture and people, which he communicates well to the viewer.
Date published: 2020-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fun Travel Show with our Favorite Professor! This travel show with Dr. Barnhart was such a great idea! After watching a significant portion of his lectures on the native cultures of North, Central, and South America, getting to see Barhart out in the field doing interviews and demonstrations was just what we needed for context and a great supplement to what we learned in his lecture series. We want to see Great Courses make more shows like this, if the lecturers are up for it!
Date published: 2020-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from World of the Maya This course is a great travel adventure that takes you into both the modern and ancient world of the Maya Peoples. I would highly recommend these lectures to anyone interested in Mesoamerican history and culture.
Date published: 2020-12-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from If you like travel logs... This could be interesting for anyone who likes video travel logs. If found it a tad to superficial for my tastes. I found Dr. Barnhart's other courses to be excellent, so I guess I was expecting this one to be more like his previous offerings. This course was mildly interesting to me, but there was a lot of time spent on arts and crafts, eating in restaurants, swimming in cenotes, and cursory looks at some culture of the modern Yucatan. There are some very nice, but brief tours of Mayan archeological sites, and sidebars into Mayan history. Ti o me, it comes across as a disjointed collage of factoids interspersed with some brief visits to classical Mayan ruins. I admit, I look for more of an academic approach to Great Courses offerings, but this particular video may appeal to anyone who really likes cursory travel logs. So keep that in mind as I make a recommendation with caveats.
Date published: 2020-11-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A bit hokey but worth buying My first (of many) Great Courses was one of Dr Barnhart's lecture series. The scholarly and in depth coverage of the Mayan history hooked me on the format. This series is more of a Rick Steves imitation of exploring the Yucatan. Superficial visits to interesting ruins and cities with Dr Barnhart eating, diving, trying on hats, blowing on a conch shell, and conducting interviews with friends and colleagues. If you enjoy the Maya this short course is ok but do not expect college level scholarship.
Date published: 2020-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughtful History Through Fun Travel My high school-level homeschoolers and I love Professor Edwin Barnhart's approach. His knowledge of his subject matter is deep and his enthusiasm is infectious. We loved getting to "visit" so many fascinating Mayan sites and were inspired by the present-day Mayan people he profiled. This course is a great vehicle for history without feeling heavy-handed.
Date published: 2020-10-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too superficial I was somewhat reluctant to purchase "Exploring the Mayan World" because it consists of only eight lectures, but I've always been intrigued by the Mayans, so I ordered it. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that eight lectures do not provide enough time to do justice to the subject. Moreover, the lectures are too breezy and superficial. I was expecting something more scholarly. The host himself is a huge distraction. He spends way too much time in restaurants, bars, and hat factories, and not enough time with the Mayan world. In fact, the entire series of lectures reminds me of one of those phony reality shows that are so prevalent on television these days. In retrospect, I suppose too many National Geographic specials narrated by hosts like the late David Attenborough have spoiled me. Still, this set of lectures by Professor Barnhart is not totally without merit. For one thing, the photography is excellent. For another thing, he filmed everything on location in Yucatan instead of inside a studio, which is a big plus for "travel" videos. Nevertheless, this particular course needs a lot of improvement before it becomes a great course.
Date published: 2020-10-08
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Exploring the Mayan World
Course Trailer
1: Mérida

Start your adventures in the Maya world with a trip to Mérida: the capital of Yucatán and the cultural capital of the entire peninsula. You’ll visit a factory in a run-down hacienda where they’re reviving the industry that made the Yucatán so rich more than 100 years ago; explore the mega-mansions lining Merida’s Paseo de Mont; and go shopping for the perfect hammock and guayabera shirt.

27 min
Chichén Itzá
2: Chichén Itzá

First, travel to Izamal, the “yellow city” named after the Maya sky god. Here, you’ll tour the city’s rich history—including a hike up a pyramid as high as a 10-story building and a walk through the Convent of St. Anthony of Padua, designed as a Christian teaching tool for the Maya. Then, venture on to Chichén Itzá, where you’ll get up close and personal with magnificent achievements of Maya architecture, including an observatory, a ceremonial ball court, and a sacred cenote.

26 min
Ek’ Balam
3: Ek’ Balam

Join Dr. Barnhart for a trip to two of his favorite places in the Yucatán: Valladolid and Ek’ Balam. The first is a city established on the foundations of a Maya city called Zací and offers travelers a chance to see a traditional agave distillery and an all-female troop of competitive horseback riders. The second is the well-preserved ruins of what was once a Maya capital, and it’s where you’ll witness fantastic stucco facades and reenactors demonstrating musical instruments and the Maya ball game.

27 min
4: Tihosuco

More fun in the Maya world awaits in this fascinating episode where you’ll accompany Dr. Barnhart as he writes his name in Maya hieroglyphs, talks to howler monkeys, plunges into a geological cathedral, and more. It’s all part of his journey to Tihosuco, home to perhaps the largest episode in world history of an oppressed people fighting for their independence. Sites you’ll visit include the Cenote Suytun, Punta Laguna National Park, the Caste War Museum, and the Iglesia de Santo Niño Jesus.

25 min
5: Mayapán

Around 1250, Mayapán replaced Chichén Itzá as the new capital of the Yucatán—and one founded on a league of representational government. In this episode, you’ll get a chance to explore the rich history and culture of the site and its surrounding region. Learn about the infamous destruction of sacred Maya codices during public acts of faith held by the Spanish friar Diego de Landa, sample delicious dishes of grilled pork and ground pumpkin seeds, and spend some time looking over the shoulder of a ceramic artist working to keep Maya artistic traditions alive in the 21st century through reproductions of ancient pottery.

24 min
6: Uxmal

Discover what makes Uxmal such a marvel of Maya urban planning. Dr. Barnhart walks you through archaeological features, including the Pyramid of the Dwarf, the Palace of the Governors, and the Nunnery Quadrangle. Plus, spend some time exploring the Loltún Caves: a site that was once used for religious meditation and rituals, and where you’ll find handprints dating back 10,000 years. Cap off your adventure with a sampling of hot chocolate—made the traditional Maya way.

27 min
7: Celestún

Your first stop in this episode is Kabáh, the second-largest ruin featuring the Puuc architectural style, where you’ll find over 200 faces of Chaac the rain god and a rare example of literate public art. Next, visit Bécal, famous for producing some of the best jipijapas (or, as tourists call them, panama hats) in the Yucatán. Finally, take a trip to the Celestún biosphere, a wetland reserve spanning some 150,000 acres that’s famous for the thousands of flamingos that flock there.

25 min
8: Labná

Labná, the last of the ancient sites you’ll hit on this trip, is an architectural wonder crowned by the three buildings everyone comes here to see: the Palacio, the El Mirador pyramid, and the Labná Arch. After decoding the cultural messages in these famous works, travel back to Mérida, where your journey began. Here, you’ll follow Dr. Barnhart through the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, watch him sample modern takes on traditional Maya cuisine at a boutique hotel and spa, and catch an evening revival of a Maya ball game in Mérida’s central square.

24 min
Edwin Barnhart

In my own experience as an explorer, it's almost always the case that the locals knew where lost places were all along. The discoverer is just the first person to ask the right questions.


University of Texas, Austin


Maya Exploration Center

About Edwin Barnhart

Dr. Edwin Barnhart is director of the Maya Exploration Center. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and has over 20 years of experience in North, Central, and South America as an archaeologist, explorer, and instructor. In 1994, Professor Barnhart discovered the ancient city of Maax Na (Spider-Monkey House), a major center of the Classic Maya period in northwestern Belize. In 1998 he was invited by the Mexican government to direct the Palenque Mapping Project, a three-year effort to survey and map the unknown sections of Palenque's ruins. The resultant map has been celebrated as one of the most detailed and accurate ever made of a Maya ruin. In 2003, he became the director of Maya Exploration Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of ancient Maya civilization. The center leads study-abroad courses for college students and tours for the general public in the ruins of the ancient Americas, among its other research and educational activities. Professor Barnhart has taught archaeology and anthropology at Southwest Texas State University, and currently teaches University of Texas travel courses for college professors on ancient Andean and Mesoamerican astronomy, mathematics, and culture. Over the last 10 years, he has appeared multiple times on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and Japanese NHK Public Television. He has published over a dozen papers and given presentations at eight international conferences.

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