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Mayan Chronology: New Evidence

Nature volume 143, page 593 (08 April 1939) | Download Citation



A JOINT expedition of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and the National Geographic Society, which is engaged in the excavation of a site at Tres Zapotes, in the State of Vera Cruz, southern Mexico (according to a communication issued by Science Service, Washington), has discovered a date monument which, it is anticipated, will settle a much-debated question of the authentic age of the reputedly earliest known dated Mayan object, and at the same time determine how and when the ancient Maya first spread over Central America. The site at Tres Zapotes, it is to be noted, is at least one hundred miles west of what had hitherto been believed to be the Mayan zone. Reports of the early results of excavation indicate that the site at Tres Zapotes is early; but the dating of the recently discovered monument is in the so-called ‘short’ style, which has generally been regarded as a late invention. Apart from its intrinsic interest, the question whether this style of dating was or was hot in use in the early period of Mayan civilization is of importance in its bearing on the age of the famous jade statuette of a priest now in the National Museum, Washington. This statuette bears a dating equivalent, on the Spinden correlation, to May 16, 98 B.C., and if this be taken at its face value, the statuette is the oldest known dated Mayan object. The date, however, is written according to the ‘short’ system, and question, therefore, has been raised whether the dating is contemporary, or was added in a later period, or whether, indeed, the statuette itself may not be an archaistic piece. Dr. Matthew W. Stirling, who is in charge of the excavation, has summoned a conference of archaeologists to be held on the site, to discuss whether they confirm his conclusion that the newly discovered monument is ‘early’.

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