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Ancient Time: Earliest Mayan Astronomical Calendar Unearthed in Guatemala Ruins Tags: mayas

Maya Painting At Xultun, Guatemala: Glyphs Describe Mayan Calendar But Not End Of World


For the first time we get to see what may be actual records kept by a scribe, whose job was to be official record keeper of a Maya community. It’s like an episode of TV’s ‘Big Bang Theory,’ a geek math problem and they’re painting on the wall. They seem to be using it like a blackboard.

That’s Boston University archaeologist William Saturno talking about a new excavation of an ancient Mayan structure hidden in a rain forest in Guatemala’s Peten region, according to a written statement released by the National Geographic Society. The society supported the excavation, which Saturno led.

The walls of the structure, believed to be a house, are adorned with unique red and black glyphs unlike those seen at other Maya sites, according to the statement.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” David Stuart, professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas-Austin, said in the statement. He deciphered the glyphs.

Some of the glyphs relate to various Mayan calendars. But guess what: there’s no sign from the glyphs that the Mayans believed the world would end in 2012–only that the world would begin a new cycle.

“It’s like the odometer of a car, with the Maya calendar rolling over from the 120,000s to 130,000,” Anthony F. Aveni, professor of astronomy and anthropology at Colgate University, said in the statement. “The car gets a step closer to the junkyard as the numbers turn over; the Maya just start over.”

The structure is part of a region called Xultun, the largest Mayan site yet to be fully investigated by archaeologists. It was first spotted in 2010, according to the statement.

The discovery of the glyphs is reported in the June issue of “National Geographic” and in the May 11 issue of the journal “Science.”

"Younger Brother Obsidian," as labeled on the north wall of the Maya city

Trees grow atop a newly discovered mound over a house built by the ancient Maya that contains the rendering of an ancient figure, possibly the town scribe. The house sits at the edge of the ancient site of Xultún in Guatemala, a city that once housed tens of thousands of people. Excavation and preservation of the site were supported by the National Geographic Society. Photo by Tyrone Turner © 2012 National Geographic

Three male figures, seated and painted in black. The men, wearing only white loincloths and medallions around their necks and a head dress bearing another medallion and a single feather, were uncovered on the ruined house

A Maya king, seated and wearing an elaborate head dress of blue feathers, adorns the north wall of the ruined house discovered at the Maya site of Xultún. An attendant, at right, leans out from behind the king

A vibrant orange figure, kneeling in front of the king on the ruined house

Four long numbers on the north wall of the ruined house relate to the Maya calendar and computations about the moon, sun and possibly Venus and Mars; the dates may stretch some 7,000 years into the future. These are the first calculations Maya archaeologists have found that seem to tabulate all of these cycles in this way. Although they all involve common multiples of key calendrical and astronomical cycles, the exact significance of these particular spans of time is not known. Illustration by William Saturno and David Stuart © 2012 National Geographic

The painted figure of a man -- possibly a scribe who once lived in the house built by the ancient Maya -- is illuminated through a doorway to the dwelling, in northeastern Guatemala. The structure represents the first Maya house found to contain artwork on its walls. The research is supported by the National Geographic Society. Photo by Tyrone Turner © 2012 National Geographic

Conservator Angelyn Bass cleans and stabilizes the surface of a wall of a Maya house that dates to the 9th century A.D. The figure of a man who may have been the town scribe appears on the wall to her left. Excavation and preservation of the site were supported by the National Geographic Society. Photo by Tyrone Turner © 2012 National Geographic

Never-before-seen artwork -- the first to be found on walls of a Maya house -- adorn the dwelling in the ruined city of Xultún. The figure at left is one of three men on the house

Archaeologist William Saturno of Boston University carefully uncovers art and writings left by the Maya some 1,200 years ago. The art and other symbols on the walls may have been records kept by a scribe, Saturno theorizes. Saturno


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