AUSTIN (KXAN) — University of Texas at Austin researchers discovered evidence in Guatemala for the earliest known Maya calendar.

According to a UT release, the researchers found and pieced together two fragments while excavating murals in San Bartolo. The fragments form the notation “7 Deer,” which is part of the Maya divination calendar.

The calendar was used by other Mesoamerican cultures, including the Aztecs, and is still in use today. It’s estimated the “7 Deer” notation dates back more than 2,000 years to 300 B.C., centuries older than previously obtained evidence, the release states. The calendar weathered an almost 20-year civil war in Guatemala and centuries of conquests.

According to David Stuart, a professor of art history who discovered the fragments “The Maya calendar is one of the most distinctive and well-known features of the culture and of traditional Mesoamerican peoples. It was in use for centuries before the arrival of Europeans, and some of it is still being used among indigenous Maya communities in Guatemala.”

The calendar is an indication of the Maya intellectualism’s lengthy history.

“But its origins have long been murky. The discovery of the painted fragment at San Bartolo allows us to establish a good date of 300 B.C., which is far earlier than any date we had before” says Stuart.

The 7 Deer day record is significant for understanding the genesis of the 260-day divination calendar, according to the study published in the journal Science Advances. This discovery provides a solid foundation for comprehending the origins of Mesoamerican writing, science, and religion. The calendar is an integral part of the indigenous Maya identity in numerous contemporary communities.

In addition to the researcher’s discovery of the calendar, they located 10 other text fragments which reveal multiple scribal hands, a mural combining texts with images from an early ritual complex and writing tradition. Alongside this research, Stuart was a member of the team that found the San Bartolo site in 2001.

“Before this, many assumed that the Maya simply borrowed an older system from other nearby cultures. Now we know they had it as early as anyone else, if not earlier,” Stuart said. “The Maya were key players in the development of Mesoamerica as a whole.”

The recent publication of Stuart’s findings is in Archaeology magazine’s “Top 10 Discoveries of 2022.”