Photo in the News: Oldest Known Maya Mural Reveals Royal Tale

Photo: Maya mural of San Bartolo
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December 13, 2005—Archaeologists today revealed the final section of the earliest known Maya mural ever found, saying that the find upends everything they thought they knew about the origins of Maya art, writing, and rule.

The painting was the last wall of a room-size mural to be excavated. The site was discovered in 2001 at the ancient Maya city of San Bartolo in the lowlands of northeastern Guatemala.

"It is really breathtaking how beautiful this is," said William Saturno, an archaeologist with the University of New Hampshire and the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

The mural tells the story of creation, the mythology of kingship, and the divine right of a king, according to Saturno, who made the find and leads the excavation.

The painting dates to 100 B.C., proving that stories of creation and kings—and the use of elaborate art and writing to tell them—were well established more than 2,000 years ago, 700 years earlier than previously believed.

"In that way it really is like you didn't know the Renaissance ever happened—you have no knowledge that anyone ever painted anything in Florence in the 16th century, then all of sudden you see a Michelangelo," Saturno said.

John Roach

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