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Archaeologists in Guatemala Unearth Oldest Mayan Mural

Archaeologists working in Guatemala have unearthed a large, brightly-colored Mayan mural thought to be the oldest of its kind. The 2,000-year-old wall painting depicts the mythology surrounding ancient kings and life during a period in early Mayan civilization.

Using carbon dating, archaeologists have put the age of the mural at 100 BC.

It was discovered in an ancient Mayan pyramid at San Bartolo in Guatemala by scientists who found another mural at the site four years ago.

While that finding was spectacular, team leader William Saturno of Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology says it did not prepare archaeologists for their most recent discovery.

"I was awestruck by its state of preservation. Its brilliant colors and fluid lines looked as though they could have been painted yesterday. More important than its preservation, however, was its content. As the wall was uncovered, so too was the Maya story of creation," he said.

Mr. Saturno says the 9x1-meter mural shows the establishment of the Mayan's belief in world order. Four deities, which are variations of the same figure and apparently sons of the maize god, offer up blood sacrifice as they set up the physical world. "We then witness the maize god's birth, his death and his resurrection, before the wall ends with the coronation of a named and titled Maya king, newly crowned in the company of the Gods," he said.

As for what the room was used for, Mr. Saturno says archaeologists are still trying to figure that out. Our best guess is that this was sort of a preparation room. That this is where the king performed ceremony, and sort of rehearsed the mythology that he would perform on the front side of the pyramid," he said.

Two kilometers from the mural room, archaeologists discovered a tomb containing the remains of what they believe to be one of the early Mayan kings. Outside the pyramid, archaelogists found 9,000 mural chips, which they intend to piece together in the hope of gaining a fuller picture of the ancient civilization.

Before the discoveries, scientists say they had very little information on the lives of the earliest Mayans.

Scientists say they have no plans to move the murals or put them on display, although that is something the Guatemalan government may do in time.

The latest findings from San Bartolo will be published in the January 2006 issue of National Geographic.