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An astronomical calendar has been unearthed in the ruins of Xultun in Guatemala from a filled-in room once used by a scribe to record observations dating to 814 A.D. The newly discovered calendar ruins reinforce long-standing protestations from archaeologists that the Maya didn't go for doomsday predictions, such as the end of the world in 2012.
Newly discovered wall writings found in Guatemala show the famed Maya culture's obsession with cycles of time. They also show a calendar that looks to a future well beyond 2012, the year when the vanished civilization, according to popular culture, expected the world to end. "So much for the supposed end of the world," says archaeologist William Saturno of Boston University, lead author of a study in the journal Science, out Thursday. Discovered in the ruins of Xultun (SHOOL-toon), the astronomical calendar was unearthed from a filled-in room once used by a scribe to record observations dating to 814 A.D
Though about 7 million Maya people live in Central America today, the "classic" Maya civilization of pyramid temples had collapsed there by about 900 A.D. As remnants of the civilization spread to Mexico's Yucatan, they left a few birch-bark books dating to perhaps the 14th century as the only records of their astronomy, until now. Explorers first reported the site of Xultun in 1915. Two years ago, archaeologists funded by the National Geographic Society noted a small residential room partly exposed by looters. The room's walls held murals and delicate hieroglyphs that not only corresponded to a 260-day ceremonial calendar and 365-day year, but also to the 584-day sky track of Venus and the 780-day sky track of Mars. Some of the inscriptions include dates corresponding to a time after the year 3500
Much of the popular mythology over the ancient Maya civilization predicting doomsday springs from the book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck and works such as the 2009 science fiction film 2012. The newly discovered calendar ruins reinforce long-standing protestations from archaeologists that the Maya didn't go for doomsday predictions, Saturno says. "A fascinating discovery and a first in Maya archaeology," says Maya anthropologist Victoria Bricker of Tulane University in New Orleans. The room's wall probably served as a blackboard for scribes' calculations in a society where festivals, rituals and farming were tied to astronomical observations. Although once viewed as peaceful stargazers, more recent scholarly work has revealed that politics, war and trade dominated ancient Maya society, says Maya writing expert Simon Martin, co-curator of a Maya exhibit at Philadelphia's Penn Museum