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Archaeology: Fine-tuning the Maya timeline

Scientific Reports

April 11, 2013

High-precision radiocarbon dating of a wooden lintel beam from the Classic Maya site of Tikal in Guatemala could help to resolve the longstanding problem of aligning the calendars of ancient Maya and modern Europe. The research, published in Scientific Reports this week, allows the precise dating of events at the end of the seventh century AD and adds support to the hypothesis that climate change had an important role in the development and demise of the Maya civilization.

The reasons for the rise and fall of the Maya civilization remain uncertain. Historical events carved on stone monuments in the region represent a valuable source of data, but their use requires a precise correlation of the Maya and European calendars. Douglas Kennett and colleagues used accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating to analyse the markings on a wooden lintel from Tikal that bears Maya calendar dates. The findings show the dates were carved on the lintel between AD 658 and 696, supporting the most widely accepted correlation constant, the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson correlation, which was first proposed over 100 years ago.

The study adds more certainty to the tentative dating of King Jasaw Chan K’awiil’s accession to the Tikal throne in AD 682 and his decisive victory over Calakmul in AD 695. These events and those recorded in other Mayan cities can now be studied more closely in the context of other environmental, climatic and archaeological data from the regions, the authors conclude.

doi: 10.1038/srep01597

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