Professor of Anthropology
Dr. Saturno is a 2005-2006 School of American Research Resident Scholar.
He spends close to half of each year in Guatemala working on the San Bartolo mural before returning to his lab to analyze these discoveries.
Dr. William A. Saturno
Proyecto San Bartolo
5a Calle Oriente #9
La Antigua, Guatemala
Archaeologist William Saturno traveled to northeastern Guatemala to explore Maya ruins and search for ancient carved monuments. In part to escape the broiling tropical sun, he slipped into a tunnel that had been dug by looters.
The tunnel led to a small building buried beneath a Maya pyramid. When Saturno beamed a flashlight at an interior wall, he was stunned at the sight before him: an ancient Maya mural in remarkably pristine condition. Scholars say the mural, which dates from A.D. 150, is one of the most important finds in Maya archaeology in recent decades both for its artistic merit and because of the insight it will provide into the Preclassic period of the Maya.
Classic Maya culture (300 AD-900 AD) didn’t spring up overnight. But Pre-classic Maya culture has been a frustrating paradox for archaeologists.
Immense Classic period cities and their monumental architecture reveal little of the society or system of rulership that preceded these magnificent city-states. Archaeologists have long been searching for the rumored, earlier historic sites.
The recent discoveries at San Bartolo in Guatemala have proven to be one of the most important finds in Maya archaeology in recent decades.
Dr. William Saturno gives an animated and colorful tour of the unusually well-preserved pre-classic murals dating from 150 BC that depict one of the earliest mythological scenes known for the ancient Maya.
These images provide a new and unique glimpse into the formative mythology of the Maya, depicting creation of the world they lived in and relating that creation to the divine rule of kings over men.
Equally exciting is the pre-classic Maya writing in the murals, forcing fundamental revisions in our prevailing theory of the origins and development of writing in early civilizations.
Dr. Saturno relates a final fascinating aspect of this research: how these Guatemala jungle sites have been, and continue to be, mapped using commercial satellite imaging.
San Bartolo is believed to be just a small sub-section of a major pre-classic complex yet to be fully exposed. The murals at San Bartolo hint at the possibility of a, as yet undiscovered, “sistine chapel” by Maya artists of the same period.