Archaeologists in Guatemala have discovered the oldest recorded evidence of the Mayan calendar: two murals that, when grouped together, reveal a notation known as “7 deer,” according to a new study.
The “7 deer” fragments date back to between 300 BC and 200 BC, according to radiocarbon dating by the research team. This early date indicates that this Maya The researchers said the divination calendar, also used by other pre-Columbian cultures in Mesoamerica, such as the Aztecs, has been in continuous use for at least 2,300 years, when it is still followed today by the modern Maya. (In particular, this is not the Long Count calendar that some people use used To indicate that the world will end in 2012.)
“It is the only calendar that has survived all of the conquests and civil war in Guatemala,” which was waged from 1960 to 1996, according to study first author David Stewart, the Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin. , for Live Science. “The Maya people today preserved in many societies as a way to communicate their ideas of destiny and how people relate to the world around them. It’s not revival. It’s actually calendar preservation.”
Researchers have found wall fragments at the archaeological site of San Bartolo, northeast of the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. Stewart was part of the team that discovered San Bartolo in 2001. “It’s in the remote jungles of northern Guatemala” and is famous for Mayan murals dating from the Late Preclassic period (400 BC to AD 200), he said.
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San Bartolo’s frescoes are located in a huge complex known as Las Pinturas, which was built by the Mayas over hundreds of years. Every now and then, the Mayas would build on top of an ancient complex, erecting larger and more impressive structures. As a result, Las Pinturas are layered like an onion. Stewart said that if archaeologists tunneled into its inner layers, they could find earlier structures and murals.
The researchers collected ancient organic materials, such as charcoal, within the layer in which the parietal fragments were discovered. By radiocarbon dating these parts, they were able to estimate when the frescoes were created.
However, these murals were not one-piece. In total, the team discovered about 7,000 pieces of different murals. Among this huge collection, the team analyzed 11 mural fragments, discovered between 2002 and 2012, with radiocarbon dating. These two motifs included the “7 deer” notation, which includes a glyph, or image of a deer under the Mayan symbol for the number seven (a horizontal line with two dots).
Four Mayan calendars
Stewart said that the Mayans had four calendars, because they “were very concerned with keeping time.” “They had elaborate, elegant ways of keeping track of time.”
The first is the Sacred Divination Calendar, or Tzolk’in, from which the “7 deer” notation originated. This calendar has 260 days consisting of a set of 13 numbers and 20 days with different signs (eg deer).
However, the 260 days does not constitute a year. Instead, it’s a cycle similar to the seven-day week. The “7 deer” sign does not give you an appointment; It doesn’t tell you the season or year something happened. “It’s like saying that Napoleon invaded Russia on Wednesday,” Marcello Canuto, director of the Central American Research Institute at Tulane University, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science.
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Today, Stewart said, the 260-day cycle in the Tzulkin calendar is used for pacification and ceremonial record keeping. “There are appointment keepers, as they are called, in Guatemala today,” Stewart said. “If you say today is 7 deer, they’ll go, ‘Oh yeah, 7 deer, that means this, this and that. “
Other Mayan calendars are the Haab’, a solar calendar that lasts 365 days but is not a leap year; The lunar calendar and the Long Count calendar, which tracks major time cycles and caused a lot of uproar when some people (mistakenly) thought it was foretelling the end of the world in 2012, Live Science previously reported.
“[I remember] All this crap in 2012 about the end of a cycle, Stewart said. Everyone was saying, “It’s the end of the calendar.” But no, they didn’t understand that there was another cycle after that.”
There are other calendar entries that Probably They are older than the newly described 7-deer find, but these artifacts present a challenge so far because they are carved into stone (which does not contain any radiocarbon that can be dated). Furthermore, these carved stones may have been moved, which means a date from the site may not reflect the date of these calendars, Stewart said. For example, the proposed Tzolk’in calendar found in the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico has dates from 700 BC to 100 BC, according to to many of studies.
When these four types of calendars are taken into account, this “7 deer” notation is “the earliest evidence of any Maya calendar, perhaps [the] Too early safely “The evidence dates anywhere in Central America,” Stewart said.
Archaeologists were surprised to find an avatar of a deer. Stewart said that Maya Tzolkin’s later notations always wrote the word deer rather than an animal glyph. In fact, these fragments may be evidence of an early stage of Maya script, he said.
“We expect a little bit in the article that this is an early stage of the writing system where they haven’t set the standards we are used to,” Stewart said. He added that it was unclear where this calendar system began in Central America.
Kanuto noted that these two lines of evidence help tie everything together. “The text seems to be referring to something really old, and then the radiocarbon and dating context seem to support that,” he said.
The study was “meticulously conducted,” Walter Weiche, a retired research professor of anthropology and geography at Longwood University in Virginia and a research fellow at the Central American Research Institute, told Live Science in an email. The result, he said, was “evidence of the earliest known calendar codification from the Maya region.”
The study was published online Wednesday (April 13th) in the journal science progress.
Originally published on Live Science.