The first date of the Mayan calendar appears in the depths of a pyramid | Science

These fragments show one of the days of the Tzolkin calendar, with a dot and dash for the number seven and a deer’s head.Karl Taub. Courtesy of San Bartolo-Xultun Regional Archaeological Project

In 2001, a group of archaeologists led by William Saturno discovered a semi-hidden new Mayan city in the El Petén Forest in Guatemala. The place known as San Bartolo was distinguished by its pyramid built in successive stages, one above the other. call her paintings, so in Spanish, for one of the treasures found in the first room: brightly painted murals reminiscent of Roman frescoes by Pompeii. Among the illustrations of their deities and the origin of the world, there was one of the first examples of writing the Mesoamerican civilization. Now, the first reference to the Mayan calendar has been identified in two wall fragments that were found at depth paintings. The discovery shows that the Maya ritually organized time much earlier than previously thought.

Boris Beltran was a student at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City when he joined the San Bartolo excavation team in 2004. Today he is the co-director of San Bartolo Zulton Regional Archaeological Project He recalls how, four years later, he found the first reference to the Mayan calendar: “When we found the pieces in the center of the pyramid, we didn’t realize what they were, but he kept repeating, it’s plates, it’s plates.” His colleague Heather Hurst, an archaeologist at Skidmore College (US) and co-director of the site, reiterated that “it can’t be, it can’t be.” But it was. There they found more than 7,000 pieces of murals painted on the plaster of the walls. Using radiocarbon dating of charred wood remains from the filling, they were able to calculate that these early stage paintings would have been inscribed on plaster between 300 and 200 years before this age, two centuries earlier than early stage paintings. Camera.

“When we found the pieces in the middle of the pyramid, we didn’t realize what they were, but he kept repeating them, they’re paintings, they’re paintings.”

Boris Beltran is Co-Director of the San Bartolo Zulton Regional Archaeological Project

It was the Maya themselves who pulled down the wall to expand the pyramid. But the care they took to dismantle the fresco, how they removed the plaster, how they deposited it inside the room…as if it was a constructive base for the Maya. When a new structure is erected, they bury the old one. “It’s a sacred thing, as if they were burying the family,” Beltran says. “When drawing a portrait, the Mayas believed that drawing brought the figure back to life. So when it came time to end its use, they had to respectfully remove it,” adds Hearst.

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For more than 10 years, Hearst, Beltran and other archaeologists, including David Stewart, director of the Mesoamerican Center at the University of Texas at Austin, who was involved in the initial discovery, have attempted to solve this 7,000-piece puzzle. With the help of advanced imaging techniques and their accumulated knowledge of the Mayan civilization, they were able to reconstruct scenes showing the origin of the world according to the Mayan deities, such as their own, such as the corn or the sun god rising from the mountain … But they also found allegorical images that provide new clues about the main aspects of that civilization . One is the first written mention of a ruler paired with a figure on the throne in panels dating back 100 years before this era, and is the first evidence of a king centuries before the famous kings of Tikal, Sibal, or Palenque. There was already a complex social organization and hierarchy of power.

Part of the plaster in which he represents the god of corn
Part of the plaster in which he represents the god of cornHeather Hurst

Among the thousands of pieces there are two that refer to Tzolk’in, the sacred calendar. Details of their findings have just been published in the scientific journal science progress. Rated as #4778, one of the pieces shows a point and a horizontal line. It’s missing a piece and there, the researchers assert, a second point should go. The Maya wrote the number 7 with a colon at the top of the line. Between the bottom of this first and second piece, the head of a gazelle or deer can be clearly seen. And the seven deer day of the Tsolkin. It consisted of 260 days, Hearst says, “reminiscent of the length of human pregnancy,” and the calendar had no months. Instead, it consists of 20 days represented by glyphs and numbered from 1 to 13 in a periodic fashion. Seven deer followed 8 stars, 9 jade/water, 10 dogs, 11 monkeys…

“The Mayans had a solar calendar, like us, but they also had a liturgical calendar,” Hearst says. “We also have Holy Week which is part of the ritual sequence throughout the year,” he adds. It was associated with the legend of the origin and also for the celebration of the festivities that accompanied the Haab, the 360-day calendar. The remaining five, although counted, were disastrous and people avoided leaving their homes. Around both was the calendar wheel, which completed its cycle every 52 years. The complex way in which the Maya had to organize time is complemented by long counting, a vital (base 20) system for linearly counting days. With the latter it was possible to find equations between the Mayan calendar and the Gregorian calendar.

“The Mayans have a solar calendar, like us, but they also have a ritual calendar. We also have Holy Week, which is part of the sequence of rituals throughout the year”

Heather Hurst, Co-Director of the San Bartolo-Xultun Regional Archaeological Project

The significance of the discovery of the seven deer lies in the fact that it would be “the oldest recorded date, in this case on a fresco,” according to Beltran. But they must have used it for a long time. San Bartolo actually existed for about 400 years from this era. The scribes’ very “highly polished” style, as Hirst points out, suggests a tradition that came from behind. In addition, although the Maya and other Mesoamerican peoples had different ways of organizing power and different societies, they used the same liturgical calendar seen in San Bartolo, a calendar still used by indigenous communities.

For the discoverers of the seven deer, San Bartolo still has many secrets to reveal. Some are still inside the pyramid. But others are out. Four roads lead into or out of the city. “San Bartolo is at the center of something, and now we have our eyes on where these roads end,” says archaeologist Heather Hurst.

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Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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