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Library of Congress Exhibit Explores Early Americas


The Spanish were among the earliest explorers of what is now known as the Americas. An exhibition at the Library of Congress in Washington focuses on the history of that exploration and its impact on the indigenous people. VOA's Susan Logue has more on the exhibit "Exploring the Early Americas."

It should be no surprise that the exhibit "Exploring the Early Americas" features a number of historic books and manuscripts. But there is much more on display, including ancient sculptures and paintings -- more than 3,000 items in all.

"The earliest objects in the exhibit are pre-Columbian artifacts from Mexico," says Arthur Dunkelman, curator of the exhibit.

Most of those artifacts date from 600 to 900 AD. They are from the Mayan culture, ceramics, with figures carved into or painted on their surface. But there is one small wooden box from the late 7th century, carved with Mayan hieroglyphics and a portrait of a Mayan scribe.

Dunkelman says the box was probably buried with the scribe, but removed from his tomb before it could disintegrate. It is "one of the very, very few wooden objects that still exists from the Classic Maya period."

With the help of a computer, exhibit-goers can examine the box from every angle and get a line-by-line translation of the entire text.

Other computer touch screens placed throughout the exhibit, allow visitors to examine pottery, paintings, and the first map published that used the word "America." It is also notable for depicting the Pacific Ocean six years before it was explored by Europeans.

"Not only does the Pacific appear," Duneklman says, "but the relative shape of South America is pretty accurate, and its longitudinal relationship to North America is almost dead-on."

Most of the documents and objects in the exhibit are related to Spanish exploration of America. But one of the most significant items on display was written by the first U.S. president, George Washington: his 1762 farm diary, written in a farmer's almanac shortly after he inherited Mount Vernon from his brother.

Since its opening in December, "Exploring the Early Americas" has been well-attended at the Library of Congress. The curator, Dunkelman, encourages those who can't make it to Washington, to tour the exhibit on-line at the library's Website.

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