Sunday, 13 May 2012


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. The research is supported by the National Geographic Society. (Tyrone Turner © 2012 National Geographic)

Ninth-century hieroglyphs painted by a Mayan scribe in Guatemala are records of lunar and perhaps planetary cycles, forming the oldest known Mayan calendar.

Trees grow on top of a recently 
excavated mound built by the 
Maya that contains the rendering 
of an ancient figure, possibly the town's scribe 

The city of Xultún was discovered almost a century ago in the remote rainforest of the Petén region and covers 12 square miles. It was once home to many thousands of people, and monuments were constructed from the first centuries B.C. Only 56 structures have been counted and mapped among thousands more.

Led by William Saturno from Boston University, a team of archeologists has now excavated the calendar keeper’s room, which seems to be part of a house. This is the first time that Mayan paintings have been discovered on the walls of a house.

Three male figures, seated and painted 
in black are pictured in this undated 
handout of an artist's rendition of a 
Mayan painting obtained. 
Archaeologists discovered a scribe's 
notes about the Maya lunar calendar, 
which they say could be the first known 
records by an official chronicler of this ancient civilization.

Despite damage by looters, numerous red and black glyphs, and various human figures are visible on the three intact walls. Calculations on the east wall refer to the lunar cycle, whereas the more obscure calculations on the north wall could be linked with Mars, Mercury, or Venus.

According to the researchers, Mayan calendars aimed to harmonize sacred rituals with celestial events.

“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,” said Saturno in a press release.

“It’s like an episode of TV’s ‘Big Bang Theory,’ a geek math problem and they’re painting it on the wall,” he added. “They seem to be using it like a blackboard.”

However, there is no indication that our world will end in 2012; rather, it will just enter another cycle.

“It’s like the odometer of a car, with the Maya calendar rolling over from the 120,000s to 130,000,” said study co-author Anthony Aveni at Colgate University in the release. “The car gets a step closer to the junkyard as the numbers turn over; the Maya just start over.”

The red and black calculations on one of the walls seem to represent the various calendrical cycles, ranging from the 260-day ceremonial calendar to the 780-day cycle of Mars.

“There are tiny glyphs all over the wall, bars and dots representing columns of numbers,” said decipherer David Stuart at the University of Texas–Austin in the release.

“It’s the kind of thing that only appears in one place—the Dresden Codex, which the Maya wrote many centuries later,” he continued. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

The Mayan Codices were books written on bark paper a few centuries before Christopher Columbus landed in 1492.

When one enters the room, the north wall lies ahead, featuring a seated king adorned with blue feathers. Painted in bright orange, another man is carrying a pen, identifying him as the resident scribe, who may also have been the king’s son or younger brother.

“The portrait of the king implies a relationship between whoever lived in this space and the royal family,” Saturno explained.

Four long numbers on this wall show one-third of a million to 2.5 million days, stretching about 7,000 years into the future. These numbers seem to combine all the astronomical cycles important to the Maya, such as those of Mars, Venus, and lunar eclipses. Such a tabulation of all of these cycles has never been found before.

“The most exciting point is that we now see that the Maya were making such computations hundreds of years—and in places other than books—before they recorded them in the Codices,” Aveni said.

“The ancient Maya predicted the world would continue, that 7,000 years from now, things would be exactly like this,” Saturno said.

“We keep looking for endings. The Maya were looking for a guarantee that nothing would change,” he concluded. “It’s an entirely different mindset.”

The findings were published in Science on May 11 and will be discussed in the June issue of National Geographic magazine.


A writer for the Boston Globe explains how a Boston University student discovered the calendar by chance while the team was excavating Mayan ruins.

"...BU undergraduate, Maxwell Chamberlain, spotted a faded painting on a patch of wall during his lunch break ... William Saturno, an assistant professor of archeology at BU who led the team, began an excavation, and discovered a magnificent, nearly life-sized portrait of a Maya king..."

A 6 by 6 foot room houses the calendar with delicately painted hieroglyphs, numbers, and notations — never seen before. Here's a video from National Geographic:

"Inside on the walls a well preserved mural and some mysterious astronomical and calendar symbols."

Live Science says those calendar symbols are ...

"...complex indeed, featuring stacked bars and dots representing fives and ones and recording lunar cycles in six-month chunks of time. ... The Maya recorded time in a series of cycles, ... called baktuns. ... In one column, the ancient scribe even worked out a cycle of time recording 17 baktuns."

That 17 baktuns means time will extend 7,000 years into the future — contradicting the previous Mayan calendar that resulted in end of the world rumors. The Daily Beast says scientists believe...

"...the excavated room is a work space where a Mayan nerd—a calendar-keeper, astronomer, and scribe—puzzled away, covering two walls with calculations much like today's scientists do on a whiteboard. The paintings and text date back to the year 800—a remarkable five centuries earlier than the oldest known Mayan hieroglyphic books."

This newly discovered calendar does extend our time here on Earth quite a bit — But a scientist quoted in the Huffington Post says the idea the world would end in 2012 is a modern myth...

"It's like the odometer of a car, with the Maya calendar rolling over from the 120,000s to 130,000 ... The car gets a step closer to the junkyard as the numbers turn over; the Maya just start over."

No comments:

Post a Comment