Archaeologists working in one of the most impenetrable rain forests in Guatemala have stumbled on a remarkable discovery: a room full of wall paintings and numerical calculations.
The buried room apparently was a workshop used by scribes or astronomers working for a Mayan king. The paintings depict the king and members of his court. The numbers mark important periods in the Maya calendar.
The room is about the size of a walk-in closet. It's part of the buried Maya city of Xultun. There are painted murals on three walls, depicting a resplendent king wearing a feather and four other figures. Maya paintings this old — the site dates to the ninth century — are very rare; tropical weather usually destroys them.
But David Stuart, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, Austin, says the numbers are the most intriguing discovery. "The wall is covered in numbers and this is something that really got our attention very early on," he says. "This is an unusual thing about the Xultun mural."
Writing in the journal Science, the scientists say the murals confirm what Maya archaeologists have been saying for years: The Maya calendar does not predict the end of time in 2012, as some New Age prophets have argued. In fact, the murals register future time stretching far beyond 2012.