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Maya Mural Found in Guatemala Reveals Ancient ‘Photobomb’

Image: Maya mural of man kneeling before the king
A man with the title "junior obsidian" kneels before the king in a Maya mural researchers uncovered in Guatemala in 2010.

An ancient Maya mural found in the Guatemalan rainforest may depict a group portrait of advisers to the Maya royalty, a new study finds.

Most Maya murals depict life within the royal sphere, but the newfound mural, uncovered in the Guatemalan rainforest in 2010, shows a vibrant scene of intellectuals consulting with the royal governor, who is dressed as the Maya wind god.

Behind him, an attendant, almost hidden behind the king's massive headdress, adds a unique photobomb to the mural, said Bill Saturno, the study's lead researcher and an assistant professor of archaeology at Boston University. [See Photos of the Ancient Maya Mural]

"It's really our first good look at what scholars in the eighth-century Maya lowlands are doing," Saturno said.

The Maya 'a remarkable civilization'

The murals also provide information about a man buried beneath them. During an excavation, the archaeologists found the skeleton of a man dressed like the sages in the mural. It's possible the man once lived in the room, which later became his final resting place, Saturno said.

Archaeologists discovered the approximately 1,250-year-old mural in the ancient city of Xultun, located in the northeastern part of present-day Guatemala. During an archaeological study of Xultun, an undergraduate student inspecting an old looters' trail noticed traces of paint on an ancient wall covered by dirt.

"My assumption was that there would be very little to see," Saturno said. "Not because the Maya didn't paint murals — they did — but they don't preserve well in a tropical environment."

However, the elements had been kind to the building and its treasures. The excavation uncovered a rectangular room covered with murals and a Maya calendar, the oldest known Maya dating system on record.

The mural is one of only two known murals in the eastern Maya lowlands that have lasted throughout the ages, the researchers said.

The study was published in the February issue of the journal Antiquity. The coauthors are Heather Hurst at Skidmore College in New York, Franco Rossi at Boston University and David Stuart at the University of Texas at Austin.

— Laura Geggel, Live Science

This is a condensed version of a report from Live Science. Read the full report. Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.