Archaeologist stumbles on 2 000-year-old Mayan mural

Archaeologists have dug up the oldest known Mayan painting inside a ruined pyramid deep inside a Guatemalan jungle. Dated at about 100BC, the paint-on-plaster mural depicts the Mayas’ creation myth with an elegance and finesse suggesting the civilisation developed much earlier than previously accepted.

“It was like discovering the Sistine chapel if you didn’t know there had been a Renaissance—like knowing only modern art and then stumbling on the finger of God touching the hand of Adam,” William Saturno, the archaeologist who found the ancient masterpiece, told a press conference.

Saturno, of the University of New Hampshire in the United States, stumbled across the mural in the remote site of San Bartolo in 2001 while trekking through the jungle looking for another set of ruins. Exhausted, he says, he almost fell into a looters’ tunnel in his search for shade and then looked up to find the figure of the great Corn God peaking out from the dirt on the wall above him.

Remarkably preserved for more than 2 000 years by the cool underground temperatures, the oranges and yellows, reds, greys, grey-blues and flesh tones remain clear.
Now uncovered in all its splendour, the painting will feature in next month’s National Geographic magazine.

The main 9m wall of the mural shows the son of the Corn God creating the Mayan mythical and physical world. In one scene, he offers up a fish and establishes the watery underworld; in another, he sacrifices a deer and creates the Earth. In a third, he floats in the air holding out a turkey to make the sky, while in a fourth he is surrounded by the blooming flowers of paradise.

Other sections depict the Corn God’s birth, death and resurrection, and establish the principle of divine kingship with the Corn God crowning himself, and the first human king claiming his earthly crown from the surrounding deities.

“It’s the equivalent for the Maya of the biblical account of Genesis, but it’s more than that because it provides a link between the gods of creation and the Maya kings,” archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli, of Vanderbilt University, who was not involved in the find, told The Los Angeles Times.

Saturno said he guessed the chamber may have functioned as a rehearsal room where Mayan kings could learn the mythology for public ceremonies. The discovery nearby of a royal burial site dated to 150BC fuels the idea that Maya civilisation evolved much earlier.—Guardian Unlimited Â

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