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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 17:16 GMT
Historic Mayan mural found 'by chance'
Mayan mural
Mr Saturno "started laughing" when he saw the mural
An accidental find by an archaeologist in Guatemala has turned out to be the oldest-known Mayan wall painting.

The mural, which is 1.2m long, dates from 100 AD and is being seen as one of the most important finds in Mayan archaeology for decades.

William Saturno was looking for some shade at the pyramid site in San Bartolo when he shone his torch down a tunnel dug by looters - and saw the painting.


I felt like the luckiest man on the planet

William Saturno
The discovery in March last year has just been reported in the April edition of National Geographic magazine.

"This painting is among the most important finds in Maya archaeology in the last few decades," said Mr Saturno, a University of New Hampshire lecturer.

"It opens a window into the mythological and courtly life of the ancient Maya during the pre-Classic period."

In a statement Mr Saturno described the moment when he first saw the mural: "I started laughing - there was this Mayan mural, a very rare thing.

Tikal in Guatemala
The only other paintings from this period are at Tikal
"The looters had cleared off a section and left it.

"I felt like the luckiest man on the planet."

The mural, which is in a 24m-high pyramid, was confirmed as Mayan by comparing it with other work from the civilization.

But researchers say no other mural of comparable size or condition from the Mayan pre-Classic period, which dates from around 2000 BC to 250 AD, has been found.

The only previously known paintings from this period are from Tikal, one of the largest Maya ceremonial and political centres yet discovered in Guatemala - but they are not nearly as large or well-preserved.

Protection

San Bartolo, the site where the mural was found, has only recently been studied by archaeologists - but has long been known to looters.

Protection of the site is now a government priority, said Neftali Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the Guatemalan culture ministry.

"The complex has suffered looting, digging has been found and that has caused partial damage," said Ms Gonzalez.

"It is necessary to carry out work of recovery and protection of the mural and other historical elements at the site."

See also:

26 May 01 | Americas
New discovery of Mayan tomb
25 Jan 01 | Americas
Inside the city of the black tiger
26 Sep 00 | Americas
Scientists 'find lost Mayan king'
25 Sep 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
A Mayan revival
09 Sep 00 | Americas
Lost Mayan palace found in Guatemala
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