Subj: Mayan find -interesting 
Date: 3/14/02 7:57:17 AM Pacific Standard Time

Scientist Finds Oldest Maya Mural in Guatemala

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (March 14) - An American archaeologist said on Thursday he had discovered the oldest intact mural from the Maya Pre-Classic period, a mythological scene dating from about 100 A.D. that provides fresh insight into the ancient and once flourishing civilization.

The wall painting, which appears to depict the myth of the Maya Corn God, was found in Guatemala last year inside a pyramid at the ruins of San Bartolo, a Maya ceremonial site in an uninhabited rain forest area in northeastern Guatemala.

Archeologist William Saturno, a lecturer at the University of New Hampshire and research associate at Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, said the 4-foot long mural comprised possibly only 10 percent of a massive wall painting in a room whose dimensions were still unclear.

Stylistic comparisons with Pre-Classic Maya art confirmed the mural was the earliest intact wall painting known from the Maya region, he said. The Pre-Classic period dates from around 2000 B.C. to 250 A.D.

''This painting is among the most important finds in Maya archeology in the last few decades,'' said Saturno, whose mural research was funded by the National Geographic Society.

''It opens a window into the mythological and courtly life of the ancient Maya during the Pre-Classic period,'' he added.

Maya murals, he said, were extremely rare and the last mural comparable to his discovery was found in 1946 in Bonampak in Chiapas, Mexico, which dated to about 790 A.D.

Saturno was searching for two inscribed stelae, or stone monuments, at San Bartolo when he stumbled across the mural, which was likely painted with animal hair brushes using red, yellow and black pigments from crushed rock.


Told it would take about half a day to reach the site, the trip actually took about three days and Saturno said his team arrived there thirsty, hungry and exhausted only to find that the two stone monuments did not exist.

While his team went in search of water, Saturno sought shade in a trench that had been looted in the unexcavated pyramid and absent-mindedly turned on his flashlight.

''Then I saw the mural, I couldn't believe it. It changed my mood quite rapidly from being fairly upset that I had walked all this way and had no food and no water to being very happy,'' Saturno told Reuters in a telephone interview from Harvard.

Of the painting that can be seen, Saturno said there was a central male figure who seemed to be the Maya Corn God, wearing a loin cloth and a dramatic pendant. Behind him were two bare-breasted females.

Saturno said it appeared to depict a well-documented mythological narrative seen about 600 to 700 years later in which the Corn God is following his resurrection and being reclothed by the maidens.

''What's fascinating about this mural is that it is so brilliantly painted and so incredibly well preserved,'' he added.

He attributes the painting's survival to a protective covering of mud applied to it by the Maya before the room -- a sacred space -- was ''ceremonially killed'' by being filled with rubble. Fragments of sierra red ceramics found in the rubble date to the Pre-Classic period.

Saturno and his team plan first to conserve the part of the wall they have discovered and next year excavate the entire mural. They have already been granted permission by the Guatemalan government to do so.

He estimates it will take about five years to complete the project.

The Maya lived in the eastern third of Mesoamerica, mainly on the Yucatan Peninsula, and built and then abandoned massive pyramids and temples across Central America.

The Mayan civilization is divided into three time periods covering 3,000 years. The first is the Pre-Classic period generally said to span from 2000 B.C. to 250 A.D. The second is the Classic period, which spanned from 250 A.D. to 900 A.D. The third is the Post-Classic period, which spanned from 900 A.D. to 1500 A.D.

Reuters 15:24 03-13-02