Archaeologists discover the first Mayan calendar in a Guatemalan pyramid


Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the earliest known use of the Mayan calendar, one of the renowned achievements of this famous ancient culture, found on fragments of wall painting inside the ruins of a pyramid in Guatemala dating from the 3rd century BC with a glyph representing a day called “7 Deer” on them.

The fragments were found at the San Bartolo archaeological site in the jungles of northern Guatemala, which rose to fame with the discovery in 2001 of a buried chamber with elaborate and colorful wall paintings dating to around 100 BC. depicting Mayan ceremonial and mythological scenes, researchers said Wednesday.

The pieces with the “7 Deer” glyph were unearthed inside the same pyramid of Las Pinturas where the later murals were still intact. As was the case with this structure, the Maya often built what were initially modestly sized temples, then built ever larger versions on top of older ones. This pyramid eventually reached about 30 meters (100 feet) in height.

The glyph found on the wall painting fragments for “7 Deer”, one of the calendar’s 260 named days, consisted of the ancient Mayan writing of the number seven on the outline of a deer’s head.

David Stuart, professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas, lead author of the research published in the journal Science Advances, described the fragments as “two small pieces of white plaster that would fit in your hand, which were once attached to a stone wall.”

“The wall was intentionally destroyed by the ancient Maya when they were rebuilding their ceremonial spaces – it eventually turned into a pyramid. The two pieces fit together and have calligraphy painted in black, opening with the date” 7 Deer “. The rest is hard to read,” Stuart added.

“The paintings from this phase are all very fragmented, unlike those in the later and more famous chamber,” Stuart said.

An artist’s reconstruction of ceremonial structures dating from around 200 BC to 300 BC at the ancient Preclassic Maya site of San Bartolo in Guatemala. (Photo Reuters)

Until now, the first definitive notation of the Mayan calendar dated from the first century BC

The calendar, based on observations of the movements of the sun, moon and planets, was based on a ritual cycle of 260 named days. The 260-day calendar, called the tzolk’in, was one of many interrelated Maya systems of timekeeping, also including a 365-day solar year, a larger system called the “Long Count”, and a lunar system.

The calendar was part of the achievements of a culture that also developed a writing system encompassing 800 glyphs, with early examples also coming from San Bartolo. The Maya built temples, pyramids, palaces and observatories and engaged in sophisticated agriculture without using metal tools or the wheel.

San Bartolo was a regional center during the Preclassic Maya period, spanning from around 400 BC to 250 AD This age laid the foundation for the flourishing of Maya culture during the later Classic period, known for cities like Tikal in Guatemala, Palenque in Mexico and Copan in Honduras.

Around 7,000 fragments of wall paintings – some as small as a fingernail and others as large as 20 by 40 centimeters (8 by 16 inches) – have been found in San Bartolo, matching what the professor of anthropology and study co-author Heather Hurst of Skidmore College, New York, called it “a giant jigsaw puzzle.”

The “7 stag” and other notations seen on 11 San Bartolo mural fragments examined in the study allude to mature artistic and writing conventions in the region at the time, suggesting that the calendar was already used for many years.

“Other sites will likely find other examples, maybe even earlier examples,” Hurst said.

“Second, the tradition of scribes depicted in these 11 fragments is diverse, expressive, their technology of paint preparation and calligraphic fluidity is impressive – it was a well-established tradition of writing and art,” Hurst added. .

Some Mayan communities still use the old calendar today.

“This calendar system lasted at least 2,200 years, maintained by the Maya during times of incredible change, stress and tragedy,” Stuart said.

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