Tulix Mul (Belize): Archaeologists Discover Rare Ancient Maya Mural

For now, not enough of the mural has been exposed to determine what is depicted (see image below). Archaeologists are moving forward with a sense of urgency to ensure that a fuller view of the mural (or murals, as the case may be), will see the light of day. In 2014, the archaeological team, under the professional leadership of Thomas Guderjan of the University of Texas at Tyler, conservator Pieta Greaves of AOC Archaeology, Scotland, and Gail Hammond of University College London, will methodically and painstakingly remove the plaster overcoating from the mural to reveal the rest. Other specialized members of the team will document and interpret the mural as it is exposed. The same will be done for any additional mural finds as the team progresses to uncover the other vaulted room.

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Closeup detail view of mural thus far exposed. Courtesy Maya Research Program

But the team will be working under a shadow of uncertainty.

"Several threats to the site exist," says Guderjan. "First, the property is owned by a mechanized farming and ranching concern which often exhibits resistance to legalities. Legal protections exist but may not be followed and enforcement is difficult and generally non-existent until after the fact. Good relations exist today but cannot be guaranteed in the long run. The only solution to this problem is to purchase the site and put it into public hands. Second, the site is remote and therefore looting could occur unseen. Further, it is an obvious mott of trees on the landscape and easily found. There is also risk of damage by casual visitors so physical security of the mural must be achieved. Such security must also take into account the need to protect the mural from environmental degradation."*

Some good news has brightened the horizon for the site. Recently, the Archaeological Institute of America has approved a generous grant to help conserve and record the site, including the development of an educational outreach program that will benefit not only the visiting public but also members of the local community. In terms of protection and preservation, the team plans to "include the construction of a sealed door enabling the mural to remain in a cave-like controlled temperature and humidity setting that also restricts access from intruders."* 

The Long Term: Saving Tulix Mul

The team leadership has been in negotiations to  purchase the site, including its larger companion site of Nojol Nah, a medium-sized Late Preclassic (400 BCE-200 CE)/Early Classic(200-600 CE) Maya center that includes evidence of a public precinct with a pyramidal structure, elite residential structures, and numerous burials. The research stakeholders maintain that purchasing the sites will mean greater control of them for preservation, conservation, study, and heritage education, and will decrease the likelihood of impending destruction due to expanding agricultural operations. 

To help facilitate these efforts, the MRP, in collaboration with Popular Archaeology Magazine, has launched a fund-raising campaign through the magazine's Adopt-a-Site program to acquire the necessary funds to purchase up to 100 acres to protect Nojol Nah, its outlying component of Tulix Mul, and other sites in the area.

For interested readers, see the website for more information about the Maya Research Program, and Adopt-a-Site for more information about the donation program.

*Interview with Thomas Guderjan and Colleen Hanratty of the Maya Research Program.