In 2001, deep in the sweltering jungles of Guatemala, completely by chance, archaeologists stumbled into the substructure of a lost Maya pyramid, which was the discovery of San Bartolo. To their utter astonishment, they discovered an enormous, domed chamber, its walls bejeweled with exquisitely preserved murals. The vivid, yellow, white, red, and black ochre iconography looked as if it had been painted the day before, aside from much of it being fractured and scattered on the ground. Decades of meticulous excavation and artistic resurrection efforts were started and undertaken at San Bartolo.
Once these projects were completed, it resulted in a marvelous, iconographic window into the ancient and mysterious cosmology of these early Maya. Once analyzed and partially deciphered, this portal in time would permanently change our understanding of Maya origins.
The Discovery of the Wonders of Guatemala’s Maya San Bartolo
The discovery of San Bartolo is credited to archaeologist William Saturno of the University of New Hampshire who used carbon dating in 2001 to date the murals found at the site to 100 BC. This places the San Bartolo murals in the Preclassical Maya Period which immediately made these the oldest Maya paintings ever discovered.
Artist Heather Hurst and epigrapher Karl Taube were the experts who masterfully recreated and interpreted the murals. Apparently, at some point in the ancient past, the murals had been deliberately shattered and the chamber itself was filled in with earth. Some of the script was decipherable. However, due to its extreme age and heavy Olmec influence , the texts are some kind of proto-Maya and are therefore yet to be fully deciphered.
Not far from the mural chamber, Guatemalan archaeologist Monica Pellecer Alecio uncovered the most ancient Maya royal tomb ever discovered, dating to 150 BC. Beneath a small pyramid, within the same complex, Alecio unearthed a burial chamber which contained the bones of a man adorned with a jade plaque , confirming his status as Maya royalty.