Campus & Community

Three weeks in tiny tunnel pay off

2 min read

Maya creation mural makes toil worth the trouble

After three weeks in a tiny tunnel 50 feet below an ancient Maya pyramid in the Guatemalan jungle, Peabody Museum researcher Bill Saturno finally got to view his prize. Fine lines and dramatic colors emerged from the tunnel’s gloom, depicting a story of the gods who created the Maya world.

“It’s really like a Mayan book opens up,” Saturno said of the mural. “I was awestruck by its state of preservation.”

The 30-foot mural depicts the patron god of kings making sacrifices at the four trees that Maya mythology say are holding up the corners of the world. The Maya maize god then emerges and sets up the fifth tree in the center, completing the world’s creation. Then, the mural depicts the Maize god’s birth, death, and rebirth, and ends with the coronation of a king, who Saturno said could be a flesh-and-blood king at San Bartolo.

The find is the latest groundbreaking discovery at San Bartolo, an ancient Maya site stumbled upon by Saturno while on a field expedition for the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology’s Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions in 2001.

Saturno is a research associate at the Peabody and assistant professor of anthropology at the University of New Hampshire. The finds were to be described in the January 2006 issue of National Geographic magazine. National Geographic is partly funding the research.