23 February 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Archaeologists find the earliest evidence Maya sacred calendar in the Guatemalan pyramid

Archaeologists identified two plaster fragments depicting a date that the Maya civilization called ‘7 deer’ and was part of the 260-day calendar cycle.

The Maya calendar dates back further than previously recognized, a mural more than 2,220 years old reveals. The finding probably indicates other aspects of Maya culture also originated at least 150 years earlier than has been acknowledged.

The fragments were found at the San Bartolo archeological site in the jungles of northern Guatemala, which gained fame with the 2001 discovery of a buried chamber with elaborate and colorful murals dating to about 100 B.C. depicting Maya ceremonial and mythological scenes, researchers said on Wednesday.

Research has shown construction at the site began 2,300 to 2,200 years ago and that the pyramids at the site were built in multiple phases. The pieces with the “7 Deer” glyph were unearthed inside the same Las Pinturas pyramid where the still-intact later murals were located. As was the case with this structure, the Maya often built what initially were modest-sized temples, then constructed ever-larger versions atop the earlier ones. This pyramid eventually reached about 30 meters (100 feet) tall.

Dating of charcoal fragments—found in the same layer of debris as the wall fragments—showed them to be from approximately 300 and 200 BCE, making them the oldest known samples of a Maya sacred calendar.

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

The combination of the Maya 7 and a drawing of a deer on this mural fragment (line drawing for clarity on right) represent probably the oldest representation of the Maya calendar. Photo: Scans by Heather Hurst and illustration by David Stuart. Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abl9290
The combination of the Maya 7 and a drawing of a deer on this mural fragment (line drawing for clarity on right) represent probably the oldest representation of the Maya calendar. Photo: Scans by Heather Hurst and illustration by David Stuart. Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abl9290

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

“The paintings from this phase are all badly fragmented, unlike any from the later, more famous chamber,” Stuart said.

Until now, the earliest definitive Maya calendar notation dated to the first century B.C.

The calendar, rooted upon 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 several inter-related Maya systems of reckoning time, also including a solar year of 365 days, a larger system called the “Long Count” and a lunar system.

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

San Bartolo was a regional center during the Maya Preclassic period, spanning from about 400 B.C. to 250 A.D. This age set the foundation for the blossoming of Maya culture during the subsequent Classic period, known for cities including Tikal in Guatemala, Palenque in Mexico and Copan in Honduras.

A plaster fragment depicting the god of corn. Photo: HEATHER HURST
A plaster fragment depicting the god of corn. Photo: HEATHER HURST

About 7,000 mural fragments – some as small as a fingernail and others up to 20-by-40 centimeters (8-by-16 inches) – have been found at San Bartolo, amounting to what anthropology professor and study co-author Heather Hurst of Skidmore College in New York state called “a giant jigsaw puzzle.”

The “7 Deer” and other notations seen on 11 San Bartolo mural fragments examined in the study hint at mature artistic and writing conventions in the region at the time, suggesting the calendar already had been in use for many years.

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

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

Some Maya communities today still use the ancient calendar.

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

The article was published in the journal Science Advances.

Cover Photo: Archaeologists find the earliest Maya calendar in the Guatemalan pyramid. BY REUTERS

Related Articles

A new Indo-European Language discovered in the Hittite capital Hattusa

21 September 2023

21 September 2023

The Çorum Provincial Directorate of Culture and Tourism announced in a written statement that a new Indo-European language was discovered...

Comb and gold hair-ring dating back more than 3,000 years unearthed in south Wales

14 July 2023

14 July 2023

Archeologists in south Wales, have unearthed a golden hair ring and the oldest wooden comb ever found in the U.K....

Polish archaeologists discovered new petroglyphs dating back to the 3rd century in Colorado

14 December 2023

14 December 2023

Archaeologists from the Jagiellonian University, southern Poland, have made a significant discovery of ancient indigenous paintings and carvings in the...

Extremely well-preserved 2000-year-old child’s leather Shoe Discovered During Archaeological Mine Excavations

1 September 2023

1 September 2023

An “extremely well-preserved” Iron Age child’s shoe was discovered in Austria during excavations at Dürrnberg, near the historic town of...

New Dead Sea Scrolls in The Horror Cave

16 March 2021

16 March 2021

On Tuesday, Israeli archaeologists revealed dozens of recently discovered fragments of Bible text, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were based...

Archaeologists Find the Missing Link of the Alphabet

15 April 2021

15 April 2021

Researchers believe that Tel Lachish pottery is the oldest of its kind found in the region, and could explain how...

A 2900-year-old collection of fossilized shark teeth found in the City of David, one of Jerusalem’s oldest Parts

5 July 2021

5 July 2021

Scientists discovered an inexplicable collection of fossilized shark teeth at a 2900-year-old archaeological site in Jerusalem’s City of David, one...

Runic Alphabet Symbols in the Tombs Found in the Excavations in Istanbul

23 May 2021

23 May 2021

In the excavations carried out by the Istanbul Archeology Museums in the area where the metro station will be built...

The famous archaeologist says he will announce the discovery of the mummy of Queen Nefertiti, one of Egyptology’s main riddles, next month

14 September 2022

14 September 2022

On December 9, 2021, Egypt’s archaeological mission, headed by renowned Egyptologist and former Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass, resumed its search...

Archaeologists discover secondary gate of old Bazira city in Pakistan

26 March 2022

26 March 2022

Archaeologists claimed to have discovered the secondary gate of the city of Bazira during new excavations at Barikot in Pakistan’s...

During the demolition work, a 2,500-year-old bull heads alto relievo was discovered in Sinop

20 April 2022

20 April 2022

During the demolition work of the buildings in front of the historical city walls for the City Square National Garden...

Archaeologists Find Mysterious 2,800-year-old Channels in Jerusalem

30 August 2023

30 August 2023

Archaeologists excavating in Jerusalem have uncovered a network of mysterious channels dating back to the days of King Joash and...

The longest inscription in Saudi Arabia turned out to belong to the last king of Babylon

25 July 2021

25 July 2021

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage has announced the discovery of a 2,550-year-old inscription etched on basalt stone...

Oldest Direct Evidence for Honey Collecting in Africa

18 April 2021

18 April 2021

Honey is an important food source that has been considered a very important healing source in the history of civilizations....

Medieval ship found off the west coast of Sweden

5 February 2022

5 February 2022

A previously undiscovered wreck has been found outside of Fjällbacka on the Swedish west coast. Analysis of wood samples shows...