The first evidence of the Mayan calendar discovered inside a Guatemalan pyramid

WASHINGTON, April 13 (Reuters) – A glyph representing a day called “7 Deer” on fragments of murals dating from the 3rd century BC. found in the ruins of a pyramid in Guatemala marks the first known use of the Mayan calendar, one of those renowned achievements of ancient culture.

The fragments were found at the San Bartolo archaeological site in the jungles of northern Guatemala, which rose to fame with the discovery in 2001 of a buried chamber with elaborate and colorful wall paintings dating to around 100 BC. depicting Mayan ceremonial and mythological scenes, researchers said Wednesday.

The pieces with the “7 Deer” glyph were unearthed inside the same pyramid of Las Pinturas where the later murals were still intact. As was the case with this structure, the Maya often built what were initially modestly sized temples, then built ever larger versions on top of older ones. This pyramid eventually reached about 100 feet (30 meters) high.

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The glyph found on the wall painting fragments for “7 Deer”, one of the calendar’s 260 named days, consisted of the ancient Mayan writing of the number seven on the outline of a deer’s head.

David Stuart, professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas, lead author of the research published in the journal Scientists progressdescribed the fragments as “two small pieces of white plaster that would fit in your hand, which were once attached to a stone wall”.

“The wall was intentionally destroyed by the ancient Maya when they were rebuilding their ceremonial spaces – it eventually turned into a pyramid. The two pieces fit together and have calligraphy painted in black, opening with the date” 7 Deer “. The rest is hard to read,” Stuart added.

“The paintings from this phase are all very fragmented, unlike those in the later and more famous chamber,” Stuart said.

Until now, the first definitive notation of the Mayan calendar dated from the first century BC.

The calendar, based on observations of the movements of the sun, moon and planets, was based on a ritual cycle of 260 named days. The 260-day calendar, called the tzolk’in, was one of many interrelated Maya systems of timekeeping, also including a 365-day solar year, a larger system called the “Long Count”, and a lunar system.

The calendar was part of the achievements of a culture that also developed a writing system encompassing 800 glyphs, with early examples also coming from San Bartolo. The Maya built temples, pyramids, palaces and observatories and engaged in sophisticated agriculture without using metal tools or the wheel.

San Bartolo was a regional center during the Preclassic Maya period, spanning from about 400 BC to 250 AD. This age laid the foundation for the flourishing of Maya culture in the Classic Period that followed, known for cities such as Tikal in Guatemala, Palenque in Mexico, and Copan in Honduras.

About 7,000 fragments of wall paintings – some as small as a fingernail and others up to 8 x 16 inches (20 x 40 cm) – have been found in San Bartolo, which the anthropology professor and co- Study author Heather Hurst of Skidmore College, New York, called it “a giant puzzle.”

The “7 stag” and other notations seen on 11 San Bartolo mural fragments examined in the study allude to mature artistic and writing conventions in the region at the time, suggesting that the calendar was already used for many years.

“Other sites will likely find other examples, maybe even earlier examples,” Hurst said.

“Second, the tradition of scribes depicted in these 11 fragments is diverse, expressive, their technology of paint preparation and calligraphic fluidity is impressive – it was a well-established tradition of writing and art,” Hurst added. .

Some Mayan communities still use the old calendar today.

“This calendar system lasted at least 2,200 years, maintained by the Maya during times of incredible change, stress and tragedy,” Stuart said.

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Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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