National Geographic : 2012 Jun
PHOTO: TYRONE TURNER. NGM MAPS with the king. One is identified in glyphs as Younger Brother Obsid- ian. He's holding a stylus. An entire wall is covered in mathematical calculations. My hunch is that this may have been a workspace or teaching space for scribes, artists, or scholars. They were working things out for later public consumption. This room gives us a rare glimpse of Maya thought processes. When my colleagues and I studied four columns of huge numbers, we realized these were calculations based on the Maya calendar and astronomy that projected 2.5 million days---some 7,000 years---into the future. This was done in A.D. 813 or 814, 75 years before Xultún's final days. A lot of the Maya lowlands had already fallen silent. The collapse had begun. Trade routes and hubs of communication were all changing. At Xultún, folks were going about business as usual, but there was an undercurrent of anxiety. They wanted to tie events in their king's life to larger cosmic cycles. They wanted to show that the king would be OK. It's important to understand that the ancient Maya predicted the world would continue. That was their point. They didn't predict the end of the world. There would be cycles, new beginnings--- but never endings. That's what's going on in this room. The numbers on the walls are calculations of when the same cosmic events would happen in the future. The Maya were looking for a guaran- tee that nothing would change. We keep looking for endings. It's an entirely different mind-set. I would never have identified this nondescript mound as special. But this discovery implies that special things are everywhere. ---William Saturno EXPLORERS JOURNAL William Saturno Watch a video of Saturno uncovering the murals in our iPad edition. 0mi 100 0km100 Caribbean Sea Guatemala City GUATEMALA BELIZE EL SALV. HONDURAS MEXICO Xultún Saturno excavates the Xultún mural room, scraping debris near the painting of Younger Brother Obsidian.