Archeologists Find Astronomically Decorated Mayan Dwelling
May 11, 2012

Archeologists Find Astronomically Decorated Mayan Dwelling

Brett Smith for

Deep in the lowland jungles of Guatemala, a group of archeologists have uncovered what appears to be a workspace for an ancient Mayan scribe, complete with calculations on the Mayan calendar, reports the National Geographic Society.

According to the group´s report published in the May 11 edition of Science and the June issue of National Geographic Magazine, the calculations, which were painted on the interior wall of a house, appear to represent the various celestial cycles charted by the Maya – including, the 365-day solar calendar, the 584-day cycle of the planet Venus and the 780-day cycle of Mars, according to lead archaeologist William Saturno, from Boston University.

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

The house is located at Xultún, a 12-square-mile site where thousands of Mayans once lived. It was first discovered about 100 years ago by a Guatemalan worker and roughly mapped in the 1920s. The site was mostly unexplored until a few years ago.

Construction at Xultún began in the first centuries B.C., according to the excavation team. The city thrived until around 890 A.D. while the last monuments at the site appear to have been carved. The newly discovered calendar murals were probably painted around 800 A.D., researchers said.

“It´s weird that the Xultún finds exist at all,” Saturno said. “Such writings and artwork on walls don´t preserve well in the Maya lowlands, especially in a house buried only a meter below the surface.”

The house had murals painted on its three intact walls. The north wall depicted several images, including a king´s portrait and another figure the artist labeled, “Younger Brother Obsidian.” The north wall also contained four long numbers representing one-third of a million to 2.5 million days. These numbers illustrate different significant astronomical cycles and dates that stretch about 7,000 years into the future.

The east wall shows additional columns of numbers in the form of dots and long bars representing calendrical calculations on the phases of the moon and attempts to reconcile lunar periods with the solar calendar.  One section of the wall contains notes painted in red that appear to be corrections to the calculations appearing alongside them.

On the house´s west wall, the artist painted three seated black figures wearing white loin cloths and single feather headdresses. One figure is labeled “Older Brother Obsidian” and another is labeled as a youth.

The project scientists say that despite popular belief, there is no sign that the Maya calendar – including the newly discovered calculations – ends in the year 2012. They said the calendar works in a cyclical, not linear manner.

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