San Bartolo - No need to nick the mural

Last week (June 13-15, 2018) there was an international seminar in Guatemala titled De la oscuridad a la luz, to celebrate the inauguration of a new section in the museum MUNAE: vitrines with original fragments of the famous San Bartolo murals. A great accomplishment! In this blog I want to make some comments on Dave Stuart’s presentation during the seminar called “Maya Creation in four Acts: A Study of Narrative Structure in the San Bartolo Murals”.

Mural San Bartolo

Every image in this article is based on the Artwork of Debra Atenea Díaz Zúñiga, adapted from Heather Hurst (2015). In Valores plástico-formales del arte maya del Preclásico tardío a partir de las configuraciones visuales de San Bartolo, Petén, Guatemala, Sanja Savkic (2016).

Stuart’s idea in itself is interesting, and is based on the two dates that have been found: 3 Ik’ which is on the West Wall and a fragment with the glyph 1 Ajaw, without context, found among the rubble of the other walls. He suggested that they formed part of an original series of four dates which guided the ‘reading’ of the murals. It recalls the birth of the people from Chicomoztoc depicted in the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, which indeed follows a calendrical sequence, an example, however, that was not mentioned by Stuart.

In his endeavor to reconstruct the San Bartolo narrative, he divides the murals into four scenes, two of which are on the existing murals and two imaginary others who belonged to the destroyed murals. In this effort he cuts off the Burst Tecomate on the North Wall from the Cave scene next to it, this way leaving the North Wall mural broken up. To him the Burst Tecomate scene belonged to the Throne scene on the West Wall mural. Why, he didn’t say; he just thought there was the cut in the narrative. There are various reasons against this cutting up of the North Wall.

First, of course, it is hard to believe that the creators of these murals did not know how to design their work well.

Second, the North Mural expresses an organic and thematic whole as I explained in my article Tzuywa: Place of the Gourd published in Ancient America (2006 – available online). Stuart and Taube keep saying the Exploding Tecomate or Gourd is an enigmatic scene, whereas I present a perfectly comprehensive exegesis for it in the article.