Boston magazine: March 2010: Connoisseur: Arts & Culture: Omnivore: PEM Hosts a Head of State: Matthew Reed Baker: Daniel Finamore: Peabody Essex Museum: “Fiery Pool”

More than two decades ago, a Boston University grad student named Daniel Finamore helped excavate a Mayan site in Belize, and he kept going back to the country in the ensuing years. Now the curator of maritime art and history at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Finamore can thank his long relationship with that Caribbean nation for PEM’s vast Mayan exhibit, "Fiery Pool," which opens 3/27. After all, the Belizeans are trusting him with their greatest national treasure, "Sculpture of the Jester God," a carved stone head that, like one-third of the 90-plus objects featured in the exhibit, has never been to the United States.

The piece represents the Mayan sun god, and at 10 pounds, it’s the largest jade sculpture found anywhere in the Mayan world. Carved circa 550–650 A.D., the artifact was found buried inside a pyramid in 1968, lying in the crook of a skeleton’s arm.

Though secured in a vault ever since, the sculpture has been a unifying cultural icon for this former colony, now home to Brits, mestizos, and Creoles. Its likeness appears everywhere in Belize, most notably on the currency, right next to Queen Elizabeth.

In order to bring the Jester God carving to Greater Boston, Finamore used his many years’ worth of contacts and appealed to Belize’s current efforts to boost cultural tourism. "It’s marketing for them to lend it, and we’re lucky that the country can make this step," says Finamore. "This head is the crown jewel of Belize."

"Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea" is at the Peabody Essex Museum from 3/27 to 7/18; pem.org.