The Xultun scribe’s chamber, with A, B, and C showing the locations of the calculations.
In a small closet-like chamber off a central plaza of the ancient Mayan city of Xultun, a scribe once sat with a paintbrush in hand.
On the north walls of the room, he painted an apparent self-portrait, facing a figure with an elaborate headdress, perhaps a ruler. But on adjacent walls, he and his successors, starting in about 800 C.E., painted and inscribed various astrological calculations. They are very similar to those found in the Dresden Codex, one of the most famous extant Mayan books, which contains numerous astrological and ritualistic cycles and is thought to have been copied from older books sometime between the 11th and 15th centuries. The markings on the scribe’s walls in Xultun, unveiled last week in a paper in Science, represent the earliest known depictions of some of these calculations.