In the last known largely unexcavated Mayamegacity, archaeologists have
uncovered the only known mural adorning an ancient Maya house, a new study says—and it’s not just any mural.
In addition to a still vibrant scene of a king and his retinue, the walls are rife with calculations that helped ancient scribes track vast amounts of time. Contrary to the idea the Maya predicted the end of the world in 2012, the markings suggests dates thousands of years beyond that.
“The paintings we have here—we’ve never found them anyplace else,” excavation leader William Saturno told National Geographic News.
And in today’s Xultún—to the untrained eye, just 12 square miles (31 square kilometers) of jungle floor—it’s a wonder Saturno’s team found the artwork at all.
At the Guatemalan site in 2010 the Boston University archaeologist and Ph.D. student Franco Rossi were inspecting a looters’ tunnel, where an undergraduate student had noticed the faintest traces of paint on a thin stucco wall.
The pair began cleaning off 1,200-year-old mud and suddenly a little more red paint appeared.
“Suddenly Bill was like, ‘Oh my God, we have a glyph!'” Rossi said.
(Read Saturno’s account of the Maya-mural discovery in National Geographic magazine online.)
Fully excavated in 2011, what the team found is likely the ancient workroom of a Maya scribe, a record-keeper of Xultún.
“The reason this room’s so interesting,” said Rossi, as he crouched in the chamber late last year, “is that … this was a workspace. People were seated on this bench” painting books that have long since disintegrated.
The books would have been filled with elaborate calculations intended to predict the city’s fortunes. The numbers on the wall were “fixed tabulations that they can then refer to—tables more or less like those in the back of your chemistry book,” he added.
“Undoubtedly this type of room exists at every Maya site in the Late Classic and probably earlier, but it’s our only example thus far.”