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Last Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006, 11:04 GMT
Gibson film angers Mayan groups
A scene from Apocalypto
Apocalypto is set in the last days of the Mayan civilisation
Mel Gibson's film about the Mayan civilisation has come under fire from indigenous members of the culture.

Activists in Guatemala - once home to a large part of the central American Mayan empire - said Apocalypto was unrealistic.

"The director is saying the Mayans are savages," said Lucio Yaxon, a human rights activist.

But consultant archaeologist for the film, Richard Hansen, said Gibson was "trying to make a social statement".

He said the director, who also co-wrote the film, took pains to ensure the film was historically accurate and authentic.

Gibson's representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Mel Gibson and actors on Apocalypto set
The film is released on 8 December in the US
'Racist notion'

Only the film's trailer has been seen in Guatemala, but some Mayan leaders say scenes of Mayans with bone piercings sacrificing humans promote stereotypes about their culture, the Reuters news agency reports.

Traci Ardren, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Miami, criticised the film in a review for the Archaeological Institute of America's journal.

"Gibson replays, in glorious big-budget Technicolor, an offensive and racist notion that Maya people were brutal to one another long before the arrival of Europeans and thus they deserved, in fact, needed, rescue," she wrote in Archaeology.

"I loved Gibson's film Braveheart, I really did. But there is something very different about portraying a group of people, who are now recovering from 500 years of colonisation, as violent and brutal."

The film, which has already received good reviews in the US, will be released on Friday.

The script is spoken in Yucatec Maya and Gibson's use of indigenous actors has won praise from Latino and Native American groups in the US.

The Mayan civilisation went into decline after the 8th century.

More than half of Guatemala's population is descended from the original Maya and most live in poverty with little access to education and social service.

Over 200,000 people, mostly Mayan, were killed during Guatemala's 36-year civil war that ended a decade ago.

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