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10-May-2012

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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Earliest known Mayan astronomical calendar



The painted figure of a man -- possibly a scribe who once lived in the house built by the ancient Maya -- is illuminated through a doorway to the dwelling, in northeastern Guatemala. The structure represents the first Maya house found to contain artwork on its walls. The research is supported by the National Geographic Society.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC IMAGE IS FOR YOUR ONE-TIME EXCLUSIVE USE ONLY AS A TIE-IN WITH THE WILLIAM SATURNO MAYA FIND. REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION. NO SALES, NO TRANSFERS.
[Photo by Tyrone Turner 2012 National Geographic]

A painted room in a Mayan temple in Guatemala shows numerical records of lunar and possibly planetary cycles, scientists report in a new study.

The hieroglyphs are from the 9th century, making this calendar older than the records in the Mayan Codices, which were books written on bark paper a few centuries before Columbus landed.

In a paper in the 11 May 2012 issue of the journal Science, William Saturno of Boston University and colleagues describe the room. It is part of a larger residential complex at Xultun, Guatemala and seems to have similar calculations on two of its walls.

Much of the room has been damaged by looters, but several painted human figures and many black and red hieroglyphs have been preserved. The east wall contains calculations relating to the lunar cycle. The calculations on the north wall are more enigmatic but may relate to Mars, Mercury and possibly Venus.

The authors note that one goal of the Maya calendar keepers, gleaned from studies of the codices, was to seek harmony between sky events and sacred rituals. They speculate that the Xultun paintings may have been used for similar purposes.

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