Maya Artwork Uncovered In A Guatemalan Forest
Conservator Angelyn Bass cleans and stabilizes the surface of a wall of a Mayan house that dates to the ninth century. The figure of a man who may have been the town scribe appears on the wall to her left.
Archaeologists working in one of the most impenetrable rain forests in Guatemala have stumbled on a remarkable discovery: a room full of wall paintings and numerical calculations.
The buried room apparently was a workshop used by scribes or astronomers working for a Mayan king. The paintings depict the king and members of his court. The numbers mark important periods in the Maya calendar.
The room is about the size of a walk-in closet. It’s part of the buried Maya city of Xultun. There are painted murals on three walls, depicting a resplendent king wearing a feather and four other figures. Maya paintings this old — the site dates to the ninth century — are very rare; tropical weather usually destroys them.
But David Stuart, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, Austin, says the numbers are the most intriguing discovery. “The wall is covered in numbers and this is something that really got our attention very early on,” he says. “This is an unusual thing about the Xultun mural.”
Four long numbers on the north wall of the ruined house relate to the Mayan calendar and computations about the moon, sun and possibly Venus and Mars; the dates stretch some 7,000 years into the future.
Stuart says some of the numbers are calendars that mark Maya ceremonies, or the cycles of the moon, Venus and Mars. Some calculations appear to be efforts to predict lunar eclipses.
“It’s kind of like having a whiteboard in your office where you write down numbers you want to remember if you are a physicist or a mathematician,” Stuart says. “And it’s amazing it’s on a wall. It’s not in a book.”
Maya numbers are written with bars and dots. Their use in calendars and astronomy is well-known from a Maya book called the Dresden Codex, which is written on the bark of a fig tree. But the Xultun murals are centuries older than the book.
Writing in the journal Science, the scientists say the murals confirm what Maya archaeologists have been saying for years: The Maya calendar does not predict the end of time in 2012, as some New Age prophets have argued. In fact, the murals register future time stretching far beyond 2012.
Archaeologist William Saturno from Boston University compares Maya calendars to a car’s odometer. …………..LISTEN TO THE STORY…………