Skip to main content Accessibility help

Deciphering the Handwriting on the Wall: Some Astronomical Interpretations of the Recent Discoveries at Xultun, Guatemala

  • Victoria R. Bricker (a1), Anthony F. Aveni (a2) and Harvey M. Bricker (a1)


This study places the recently excavated ninth-century A.D. four-part calendrical notations at Xultun (Lunar Table, Ring Number, Long Count, and Multiplication Table) in the context of both Classic monumental inscriptions and astronomical knowledge in the Postclassic Dresden Codex. We demonstrate that the Lunar Table employed a formula attributed to Palenque and that it could have been used as a device to determine precisely where to break the sequence of alternating 29- and 30-day months one finds on dated monuments. All four categories found at Xultun appear in the Dresden Codex. The Ring Number, which bridges a date in the deep past with one in the recently completed era, is a perfect fit with one of the most fundamental Dresden eclipse cycles. Our analysis of glyphs accompanying the Long Count date enables us to place candidate eclipses, especially one that corresponds with a conjunction of Mars, in real time. We argue that the large multiples were extracted from, or prepared for, warning tables like the Dresden eclipse table, and we demonstrate why such tables must have existed well before the Xultun inscriptions. Thus, while the writings in the Dresden manuscript constitute a finished product, the writing on the wall of residential Structure 10K-2 is more akin to what one might find in an astronomer's notebook.


Sobre las murallas de la recién excavada estructura residencial denominada 10K-2 en Xultún, Guatemala (fechada para el siglo nueve d.C), aparecen cuatro notaciones calendáricas (una tabla lunar, un Número de Anillo, una fecha de la Cuenta Larga, y una tabla de múltiplos). Este estudio sitúa estas notaciones en el contexto de las inscripciones clásicas monumentales y el conocimiento astronómico del Códice de Dresde del período posclásico. Mostramos que la tabla lunar emplea una fórmula posiblemente desarrollada en Palenque con la intención de determinar precisamente en dónde interrumpir la alternación de los meses de 29 y 30 días que se encuentren en monumentos fechados del período clásico. Las cuatro categorias encontradas en Xultún se manifiestan en el Códice de Dresde. El Número de Anillo, que conecta unafecha en el pasado remoto con una en la era actual, se ajusta precisamente con uno de los más fundamentales ciclos de eclipses. Nuestro análisis de los glifos ubicados al la derecha de lafecha de la Cuenta Larga facilita la colocación de eclipses posibles en el tiempo histórico, especialmente un eclipse quefue en conjunción con elplaneta Marte. Mostramos que los múltiplos grandes fueron extraídos de o preparados para tablas de advertencia en la misma forma que la tabla de eclipses en el Códice de Dresde, y que tales tablas existían mucho antes que las inscripciones sobre las murallas de la estructura en Xultún. Por lo tanto, aunque las escrituras en el manuscrito de Dresde representan un producto final, la escritura sobre las murallas de la estructura 10K-2 se parece más a la que se encontraría en el cuaderno perteneciente a un astrónomo.



Hide All
Aveni, Anthony F. 2011 Maya Numerology. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 21(2): 187216.
Aveni, Anthony F., Saturno, William, and Stuart, David 2013 Astronomical Implications of Maya Hieroglyphic Notations at Xultun. Journal for the History of Astronomy 44(1):116.
Bower, Bruce 2012 Maya Wall Calendar Discovered. Science News. Electronic document,, accessed May 10,2012.
Bricker, Harvey M., and Bricker, Victoria R. 2011 Astronomy in the Maya Codices. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 265. Philadelphia.
Eagle, C. David 1993 A Computer Canon of Lunar Eclipses 1500 BC to AD 3000. Willmann-Bell, Richmond, Virginia.
EZCosmos 1991 EZCosmos (version 3.0). Future Trends Software, Desoto, Texas.
Freidel, David, Scheie, Linda, and Parker, Joy 1993 Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path. William Morrow and Company, New York.
Grube, Nikolai 2000 Fire Rituals in the Context of Classic Maya Initial Series. In The Sacred and the Profane: Architecture and Identity in the Maya Lowlands, edited by Pierre Robert Colas, Kai Delvendahl, Marcus Kuhnert, and Annette Schubart, pp. 93109. Acta Mesoamericana, Volume 10. Verlag Anton Sauerwein, Markt Schwaben, Germany.
Linden, John H. 1986 Glyph X of the Maya Lunar Series: An Eighteen-Month Lunar Synodic Calendar. American Antiquity 51(1):122136.
Linden, John H. 1996 The Diety [sic] Head Variants of Glyph C. In Eighth Palenque Round Table, 1993, edited by Merle Green Robertson, Martha J. Macri, and Jan McHargue, pp. 343356. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco, California.
Martin, Simon, and Skidmore, Joel 2012 Exploring the 584286 Correlation between the Maya and European Calendars. The Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute Journal 13(2):316.
Morley, Sylvanus G. 1916 The Supplementary Series in the Maya Inscriptions. In Holmes Anniversary Volume: Anthropological Essays Presented to William Henry Holmes in Honor of His Seventieth Birthday, December 1, 1916, by His Friends and Collaborators, edited by Frederick W. Hodge, pp. 366396. J. W. Bryan Press, Washington, D.C.
Morley, Sylvanus G. 1920 The Inscriptions at Copan. Publication No. 219, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.
Saturno, William A. 2012 A Rare Set of 1,200-Year-Old Maya Murals Offers a Glimpse into an Ancient Mind-Set. National Geographic-Magazine 221(12)(June 2012):1012.
Saturno, William A., Stuart, David, Aveni, Anthony F., and Rossi, Franco 2012 Ancient Maya Astronomical Tables from Xultun, Guatemala. Science 336(6082):714717.
Scheie, Linda, Grube, Nikolai, and Fahsen, Federico 1992 The Lunar Series in Classic Maya Inscriptions: New Observations and Interpretations. Texas Notes on Pre-columbian Art, Writing, and Culture, No. 29. Austin, Texas.
Stuart, David 2012 The Calligraphic Zero. Electronic document,, accessed July 12, 2012.
Stuart, David, and Graham, Ian 2003 Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions Piedras Negras, Volume 9, Part 1. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Teeple, John E. 1931 Maya Astronomy. Publication No. 403, Contribution to American Anthropology and History, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 29116. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, DC.
Calderón, Villacorta, Antonio, José, and Villacorta, Carlos A. 1976 Códices mayas. Tipografía Nacional, Guatemala.
Zender, Marc 2004 Glyphs for “Handspan” and “Strike” in Classic Maya Ballgame Texts. The Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute Journal 4(4): 119.
Zender, Marc, and Skidmore, Joel 2012 Unearthing the Heavens: Classic Maya Murals and Astronomical Tables at Xultun, Guatemala. Mesoweb Reports. Electronic document,, accessed May 31, 2012.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Deciphering the Handwriting on the Wall: Some Astronomical Interpretations of the Recent Discoveries at Xultun, Guatemala

  • Victoria R. Bricker (a1), Anthony F. Aveni (a2) and Harvey M. Bricker (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.