San Bernardino County Museum curator Adella Schroth admits the exhibition Five Suns: The Art of Ancient Mesoamerica (May 19-November 4, 2007) was inspired by Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. That’s not surprising, but what is surprising is that the museum’s scholarship appears to have descended to the level of that of the film.

Among the show’s howlers (as described in an article in the Press-Enterprise newspaper):

  • The Pyramid of the Sun near Mexico City was built by the Maya (the pyramid is hundreds of miles from the Maya region and different in style from Maya pyramids)
  • The Aztecs discovered chocolate (they were latecomers to the feast)
  • The concept of the five suns that gives the exhibition its name was widely shared throughout Mesoamerica (it is mainly Aztec)
  • A timeline that states flatly “Columbus discovers America” without commentary or explanation (Columbus discovered America in the same sense that I “discovered” a popular restaurant; even among Europeans he was not first)
  • Many misspelled names, inaccurate dates, geographical errors

Enrique Murillo, an educational anthropologist and associate professor of language, literacy, and culture at Cal State San Bernardino, said, according to the article, that museum staff “kind of made this up as they went along…. People in a museum have an imperative to do the research and have the scholarly evidence to back up their claims.”

Artist Xavier Cázares Cortéz appears to have been the principal force in exposing the errors and getting them corrected. More in the LA Times.

“If we find something that’s incorrect, we’ll make a change,” responded Schroth, according to the Press Enterprise. From the sound of it, that should be easy. The real challenge might be to find something that’s correct.

UPDATE: According to La Azteca, “corrections” made to the exhibit have introduced new errors.