(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeologists in Guatemala have unearthed what is probably the oldest evidence of the Mayan calendar: it is depicted on two fragments of a fresco that is over 2,200 years old.
According to a study published in the journal Science Advances, archaeologists discovered fragments of the fresco while excavating the Las Pinturas pyramid complex in San Bartolo, Guatemala.
Radiocarbon dating and analysis of the hieroglyphic style have shown that the frescoes date from between 300 and 200 BC.
The frescoes depict the head of a deer, and above it is the Mayan number 7. “7 deer” is one of the 260 days of the calendar.
What is known about the 260-day Mayan calendar?
In ancient times, the 260-day calendar was used throughout Central America and consisted of 13 cycles of 20 days.
The calendar is so deeply rooted in culture that it has survived five centuries of colonization and cultural repression and is still used by some indigenous peoples.
Each day of the cycle was named after an animal or object (for example, after “7 deer” there should have been “8 rabbit”, and after “9 water”). However, the “deer” symbol could also be the “carrier of the year”, indicating a specific year in a 52-year cycle.
Whether the symbol indicated a year or a day, archaeologists believe that the “7th deer” is the earliest surviving image of the Mayan calendar, which is at least 150 years older than previous finds.
The researchers note that there were other, earlier evidence of the existence of the Mayan calendar – for example, a hieroglyph found in the Tabasco region of Mexico, which dates back to 650 BC.
However, there is no evidence that this hieroglyph denoted the day and that it belonged to the calendar record.
“One thing is clear: San Bartolo and the surrounding area require further research as they may offer a unique window into the long-term development of regional writing traditions as well as astronomical practices, ” said Gerardo Aldana, an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, unrelated with research.
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