The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Sunday, May 20, 2018

Carbon dating may help end a century-long debate about the Mayan calendar
Anthropologists took a tiny sample from a carved wooden lintel found at a temple in the city of Tikal, the centre of the now-vanished Mayan civilisation. Photo: courtesy of the Museum der Kulturen in Basel Switzerland.

PARIS (AFP).- Carbon-dating of an ancient beam from a Guatemalan temple may help end a century-long debate about the Mayan calendar, anthropologists said on Thursday.

Experts have long wrangled over how the Mayan calendar -- which leapt to global prominence last year when the superstitious said it predicted the end of the world -- correlates to the European calendar.

Texts and carvings from this now-extinct culture describe rulers and great events and attribute the dates according to a complex system denoted by dots and bars, known as the Long Count.

The Long Count consists of five time units: Bak'tun (144,000 days); K'atun (7,200 days), Tun (360 days), Winal (20 days) and K'in (one day).

The time is counted from a mythical starting point.

But the date of this starting point is unknown. Spanish colonisers did their utmost to wipe out traces of the Mayan civilisation, destroying evidence that could have provided a clue.

An example of the confusion this has caused is the date of a decisive battle that shaped the course of Mayan civilisation.

It occurred at nine Bak'tuns, 13 K'atuns, three Tuns, seven Winals and 18 K'ins -- or 1,390,838 days from the start of the count. Attempts to transcribe this into the European calendar have given estimates that vary by hundreds of years.

Anthropologists led by Douglas Kennett at Pennsylvania State University hit on the idea of carbon-dating, which measures the age of organic material from residue of carbon 14, an isotope that decays at a steady rate.

They took a tiny sample from a carved wooden lintel found at a temple in the city of Tikal, the centre of the now-vanished Mayan civilisation.

The carvings recount the key event when Tikal's king, Jasaw Chan K'awiil I, defeated Yich'aak K'ahk, known as "Claw of Fire," who headed a rival kingdom at Calakmul, 90 kilometres (55 miles) away.

Using a technique called accelerator mass spectrometry, the team concluded the tree was cut down and carved around AD 658-696.

The estimate closely matches that of a decades-old benchmark for Mayan dating, the so-called Goodman-Martinez-Thompson method.

According to the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson estimate, the big victory occurred around AD 695-712.

That figure was bolstered by early use of carbon-14 dating on two other wooden beams from Tikal in the 1950s.

The small discrepancy between the two dates may find an explanation in the wood itself, Kennett's team believes.

The huge lintel was taken from a tree called the sapotilla (Latin name Manilkara zapota), which has a very hard wood and would have taken years to strip and carve using stone-age implements, says the new study.

Armed with two good fixes on the date of this decisive battle, historians should be able to build a more accurate chronology of the rise and fall of the Mayan civilisation, says the study, appearing in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

"Jasaw Chan K'awiil's defeat of Calakmul followed a series of great wars between Tikal, Calakmul and Dos Pilas between AD 657 and 677 that resulted in the defeat of Nuun Ujol Chaak," it says.

"These events and those recorded at cities throughout the Maya lowlands can now be harmonised with greater assurance to other environmental, climatic and archaeological data."

The ancient Mayans reached the peak of power in Central America between AD 250 and 900.

The civilisation's sudden collapse has also been hotly debated. Mooted causes include disease, foreign invasion and deforestation or climate change that led to a prolonged, devastating drought.

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

Today's News

April 13, 2013

Carbon dating may help end a century-long debate about the Mayan calendar

Sotheby's New York to auction the world's most valuable book: The Bay Psalm Book

Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth acquires two monumental Maya ceramic sculptures

Sacred Hopi masks auctioned in Paris after legal bid fails; Sold for more than $1.2 million

Never-before-seen photographs of music and fashion legend Madonna on view at W New York

Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center surveys four decades of Polaroid's influence in fine art photography

Romanian artist stages 'forceful' show inside the vast palace of megalomaniac former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu

Cornerstone laid for new Palestinian culture museum in Bir Zeit near Ramallah

Exhibition of a new sculpture by Los Angeles-based artist Jennifer Pastor opens at Regen Projects

New development of Tate Modern gets five million pound Wolfson Foundation funding

1930s collection of large-scale trains joins Sterling Associates' April 24 auction lineup

Christie's online-only: Vintage couture sale features iconic designs with star status

Solo exhibition by Lebanese artist Ginane Makki Bacho opens at Ayyam Gallery Beirut

Jeanne Bertoia's private doorstop collection to be featured at 23rd Street Armory Antiques Show

Patricia Claro's first solo show in New York opens at Frederico Seve Gallery

The Other Art Fair: Spring 2013 details announced

Auctions America announces exciting list of attractions for its Auburn Spring Collector Car Weekend

Frieze New York 2013: Sculpture Park announced

Most Popular Last Seven Days

1.- Boy and an amateur archaeologist unearth legendary Danish king's trove in Germany

2.- Exhibition at The Met illustrates what visitors encountered at The palace of Versailles

3.- Philadelphia Museum of Art opens "Modern Times: American Art 1910-1950"

4.- Exhibition at Michael Hoppen Gallery presents a cross-section of works from Thomas Mailaender's career

5.- New York's Chelsea Hotel celebrity door auction raises $400,000

6.- Stevie Ray Vaughan's first guitar drives Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Auction to nearly $2.9 million

7.- Lichtenstein's Nude with Blue Hair tops $2.4 million sale of Modern & Contemporary Prints & Multiples

8.- $6.7 million Fancy Intense Blue Diamond sets auction record at Sotheby's New York

9.- Mexico court blocks sales of controversial Frida Kahlo Barbie doll

10.- Dutch museums to conduct new research on the paintings of Pieter de Hooch

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher:Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful