Maya Artwork Uncovered In A Guatemalan Forest
News > Science
Christopher Joyce
Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 6:23 AM
Font size: A | A | A | A |

Archaeologists have stumbled on a room full of wall paintings and numerical calculations in the buried ninth century city of Xultun. The room was apparently an astronomer's workshop, with calculations painted on the walls counting lunar cycles and predicting eclipses.

   
Related Articles
The Mayan Apocalypse And The Meaning Of Life
What can apocalyptic fears from the Mayan calendar tell us about how to live a meaningful life?
Doomsday Redux: Prophet Says World Will End Friday
The world will end on Oct. 21 — so says the prophet who said Judgment Day would come in May.
'Rapture' Prophet Camping: World Will 'Probably' End Quietly Next Friday
And now Harold Camping's making it sound like it will happen with a whimper, not a bang.

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."

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.

"If we're driving a car," Satruno says, "we don't anticipate that at 100,000 miles the car will vanish from beneath us. We know that it will reset to zero, and the next 10th of a mile we go we'll have another number to look at."

What these Maya timekeepers were doing was simply marking the passage of time from past to future, but in discrete intervals.

The buried city of Xultun was discovered in 1915 but was so hard to get to that archaeologists mostly ignored it. Saturno started exploring it in 2008. A member of his team found the mural room two years later, under just a few feet of soil. They got an emergency grant from the National Geographic Society to dig into it.

Looters had stolen everything removable, but the murals and the numbers remained.

Saturno says there may be lots more to find at Xultun. They've examined only about 1 percent of the buried city. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]



This article is filed in: Science, Home Page Top Stories, News

Also in Science  
Town's Effort To Link Fracking And Illness Falls Short
Despite residents' fears, scientists say they can't link health woes to gas wells in Dish, Texas.

Medical Records Could Yield Answers On Fracking
Researchers plan to mine 10 years of data on people who live near the Marcellus Shale gas wells.

'Close Encounters' With Gas Well Pollution
A quest to find answers on fracking pollution becomes too polarizing to pursue.

Too Many Cooks, Not Enough Fish. What's The Solution?
If we don't notice that animals are in decline, do we keep eating until they're gone permanently?

Jetlagged By Your Social Calendar? Better Check Your Waistline
The disconnect between our social calendars and our biological clocks is creating 'social jet lag.'

Comments  
Post a Comment