The San Bartolo murals

Back in 2001, William Saturno found the San Bartolo murals.

When archaeologist William Saturno went to Guatemala six years ago, nothing worked out the way he planned. None of the local guides could take him to see the carved monuments he wanted to research, leaving him with nothing to do.

“Not being particularly good at sitting around and twiddling my thumbs,” Saturno says, he decided to investigate a rumor that three hieroglyphic Maya monuments had been uncovered by looters in the jungle nearby.

According to the map, Saturno and his guides could reach the monument site by driving forty kilometers and then trekking on foot through the jungle. At the beginning of the road that would take them to the site, however, Saturno’s team encountered a sign that read “Camino en mal estado.” The sign itself was falling apart, Saturno says. “That should have been an indication of what we were in for.”

After an arduous, twenty-two-hour journey, the group finally arrived at the San Bartolo site, which wasn’t the one they were looking for. Exhausted and dehydrated, Saturno ducked into a looter’s trench to escape the oppressive heat. “I shone my flashlight up on the wall,” he says, “and there was the mural.” *

I’ve heard him describe the trip and apparently “exhausted and dehydrated” is an understatement.

One of the Peabody Museum’s current exhibits is “Storied Walls: Murals of the Americas“; two walls of one room are devoted to the San Bartolo murals. There are some photos of the murals, but what held my interest were the 2 digital scan+watercolor recreations by Heather Hurst. Absolutely amazing – religious sequential art.

I’m going to post a couple thumbnails here, but no slide show. If you’de like to see more, please click through to my Flickrset – I’ve annotated some of the picture and all of them ought to be seen BIG.

Bloodletting was an important ritual practice. Stingray spines were used: women – tongues, men – foreskins (at least that’s what the plaque said – looks a little far back to me).

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NPR’s Talk of the Nation on San Bartolo here. I have a video tour of the site stashed somehere – if I find it, I’ll post a link.

UpdateVideo here. You may have to download and play it locally – it played fine for me under Windows using VLC.

One thought on “The San Bartolo murals

  1. The murals are impressive however, I do not agree with William Saturno’s interpretation of them. I can offer a better interpretation. I have studied the Mesoamerican culture for over 45 years. My books, The Ark of Millions of Years trilogy, explains it well.
    Thanks,
    Mary England (E. J. Clark pen name)