I have posted before about the importance of the 2001 discovery of the San Bartolo murals. Continued research at the site is uncovering more amazing discoveries. A recent article from my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin, highlights some of these finds. The earliest Maya hieroglyphs were discovered in 2005 at San Bartolo. According to radiocarbon dating of charcoal associated with the glyphs they date to between 300-200 BCE. This discovery is now raising some questions about the development of writing in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.
“Nothing like it’s been found,” Stuart said [the Linda and David Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing at The University of Texas at Austin and a leading expert in Maya hieroglyphs]. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Previously, Saturno, a researcher for the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and lecturer at the University of New Hampshire, had found an elaborate mural depicting the creation of the Mayan cosmos. The murals date from about 150 B.C.
Those discoveries at San Bartolo have changed the way archaeologists think about the ancient Mayan timeline, that Maya literacy goes back much further than had been thought.
“You look at something like this and you realize there had to have been centuries of development leading up to it,” Stuart said. “That’s what we still don’t see. Where’s that stuff? It didn’t happen overnight.”
San Bartolo isn’t giving up its answers easily. There’s just not much to work with, Stuart said.
“Here we only have a small snippet,” he said. “If we only had a much longer text, it would be a lot easier. It’s like any kind of code breaking, the longer the sample is the more success you’ll have potentially. Our problem with this early stuff is it’s so small.”
Saturno said the San Bartolo text presents a new task for Stuart.
“Usually, when you show him Maya text, he just reads it,” Saturno said. “All of a sudden, he’s confronted with a whole new system and now the challenge is to someday be able to figure out what it means.”
Read the entire article.