Ancient Murals in Guatemala Offer Glimpse of Mayan Astronomy


A painting found on the walls of a Maya house in the ancient city of Xultun depicts astronomical information from the Classic Maya period, around 250 to 900 AD.

Archaeologists have discovered the earliest evidence of the sophisticated astronomy and the time-keeping rituals of the ancient Mayan people, deep under the earth in the Guatemalan rain forest. The researchers led by David Stuart, anthropologist at the University of Texas in Austin, published their findings in the journal Science.

Dates, tables, and depictions of lunar deities were painted and carved into the wall of a small chamber, which was uncovered last year during the excavations of Xultun, an ancient Mayan city. The city thrived 1,200 years ago.


Stuart thinks that it was a workplace for a calendar priest, scribe or astronomer. The tables are similar to the ones found in the Dresden Codex, a booklet made from tree bark that dates back to the Late Postclassic period of the Maya civilization, beginning around the year 1300.  The paintings in Xultun are the only ones that depict astronomical information from the Classic Maya period, around the year 250 to 900.

The paintings were well preserved thanks to the fact that the room was carefully filled with a mixture of stone, earth, and ceramics before the door was sealed. The team also found an artifact, which was basically a device that was used to cut bark paper. Hieroglyphs covered the walls, and some images had been plastered over to create new writing space. The images were scanned and reconstructed.


The information found suggests that the Mayans may have used calculations based on which god would be the patron of the Moon on which day. The tables indicate specific intervals of days, ranging from 935 to 6,703 years. All of these are multiples of the 52-year cyclic Mayan calendar and could possibly represent recurring events related to the cycles of Venus, the Moon, Mars, and possibly Mercury as well.

The calendar-keepers might have been trying to mesh together big harmonious numbers by which their Universe was run. It’s tied to commensuration. The researchers have only identified 12 or so painted inscriptions and have a lot more left to work on.

Reference: “Ancient Maya Astronomical Tables from Xultun, Guatemala” by William A. Saturno, David Stuart, Anthony F. Aveni and Franco Rossi, 11 May 2012, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.1221444

1 Comment on "Ancient Murals in Guatemala Offer Glimpse of Mayan Astronomy"

  1. Madanagopal.V.C. | October 3, 2012 at 8:02 am | Reply

    The only calendar for Mayans were Moon`s rising, waxing and waning. So it is not surprised that they placed all their beliefs on Moon`s cycle only as they were not aware much of other wandering planets. Any calculation was based on Moon which they believed to be messenger of God. Their predictions should be given just antique value only and appreciated. It should not be taken to the heart with the present knowledge of science. Thank You.

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