Nestled in the deep trenches of the Guatemalan rain forest, at the largest-known Classic Mayan site, Xultún, scientists have uncovered the remnants of what appears to be the earliest known Mayan calendar and murals.
Contrary to popular myth, Mayan experts have known for a long time that this calendar is not a countdown to the end of the world on December 2012, the study researchers said in a press conference to reporters.
The Mayan used a series of cycles to track time in which there were 13 baktuns each representing a 400-year chunk.
Researchers of the study say rumors surrounding a projected apocalypse on December 21, 2012, is a misconception. It is just the benchmark when a cycle of 13 baktuns will be complete and a new cycle begins.
“There was a lot more to the Mayan calendar than just 13 baktuns," said archaeologist David Stuart of the University of Texas, who worked to decipher the hieroglyphics found on the walls of a house, dating back to the early part of the 9th century (813 A.D.-814 A.D.).
"The Mayan calendar is going to keep going for billions, trillions, octillions of years into the future," added Stuart.
Archeologists working in the region stumbled upon these ruins back in 2010, while exploring the site of Xultún. They say the artifacts were well preserved in a never before seen house-like structure, which appears to be a workspace for Mayan scribes.
“It was actually my student, Max Chamberlain, who discovered to the Mayan house, while poking around a looters’ trench,” said William Saturno, lead author and archeologist at Boston University.
Due to the fluctuations in the wet and dry climates of the tropical regions in the rain forest, scientists did not expect these artworks to preserve well. At first glance, Saturno and his research team did not think their findings would amount to anything.
“Initially, when we went to verify this as a Mayan painting, all we could see at the time was a single red line on a really moldy, dilapidated piece of stucco that had been uncovered by looters about 30 years earlier," said Saturno.
“In order to gain a better understanding of the dimensions of the house, I began excavating the looters’ trench to the back wall, I was shocked to find a beautifully preserved image of a Mayan king on his throne, with a great blue feathered head dress streaming off his head,” added Saturno.
Preserved paintings were found on the ceiling and on three of the four walls, covering the west and north walls of a small 6.6-foot-by-6 foot room, with a vaulted roof. On the east wall, someone had painted a series of small, complex hieroglyphics. The newly discovered calendar, features bars and dots recording lunar cycles in six-month chunks of time. The markings tipped the researchers off, suggesting that on top of the wall murals was actually a calendar.
“All around us were paintings, we saw many life-size human figures painted in black and red hieroglyphs,” said Saturno.
Despite the remarkable findings, this team of researchers say they have only scratched the surface.
“We have 99.9 % of Xultún left to explore,” said David Stuart.
“Its actual boundaries have yet to determined and we are going to be working on it for many decades to come,” said Stuart.
The findings, supported by the National Geographic Society, are set to be published in a forthcoming article in the journal Science on Friday.