In 2003, Lucas Asicona Ramírez from a little town in Guatemala decided to renovate his house. In a surprising turn of events, after he removed the outer layers of plaster from the walls, he beheld a series of colourful murals.
Many other people wouldn’t care about such a discovery and would carry on renovating their house. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. Ramirez informed Juan Luis Velazquez, a Guatemalan archaeologist, about his amazing find. Subsequently, in 2011, he passed that information to JU archaeologists during their collaboration within the framework of the Nakum project. They decided to act immediately.
Chajul is a small town with a population of several thousand people. They are almost entirely of Ixil Maya descent. The town was built around a 1549 Dominican Order church. The murals discovered in Lucas Asicona Ramírez’s house may very well date back to that period. ‘They depict some kind of ceremony, most probably a procession. However, we’re still not exactly sure’, said Katarzyna Radnicka, a PhD student at the JU Institute of Archaeology engaged in preserving and studying the paintings. The most intriguing fact is that aside from figures clad in traditional local clothes, several of them are wearing European-style garments. This makes interpreting the murals much more difficult. ‘It looks like some kind of dance, but there’s more to it’, stressed Katarzyna Radnicka. ‘We’ve noticed that some of the dancers carry something in their hands. We figured it was human hearts, but perhaps we’ve jumped into conclusions too early. On the other hand, nobody has corrected us so far, so maybe we’re not so far from the truth’, she added.
Since the Kraków archaeologists learnt about the murals in Lucas Asicona Ramírez’s house, their main aim was their preservation. It was not until 2015 that with the financial aid of the Jagiellonian University, Pomóc Przeszłości foundation, and private sponsors they managed to carry out the first, month-long conservational works. Tomasz Skrzypiec, a conservator-restorer from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, also participated in the project. ‘We’re trying to assemble an interdisciplinary team that will be able to accurately date and interpret the murals, while also presenting them in a broader context’, explained Katarzyna Radnicka. The researchers will also need to verify the information provided by the house’s owner, which may prove to be a daunting task, as the bloody war waged in the region in the 1970s and 1980s caused the destruction of many documents.
Restoration and studying of the paintings in Lucas Asicona Ramírez’s house is just the beginning of the Kraków archaeologists’ work in Chajul. ‘We know that similar murals can also be found in three other houses. However, none of them are as beautiful as those in Lucas’ house. They’re more crudely painted or not as well preserved’, said Katarzyna Radnicka. ‘Lucas himself said there may be as many as twelve houses with murals in the town. We certainly hope to verify that in the near future’.
In the meantime, the murals have already become so famous that they made it into the Lonely Planet travel guide. The archaeologists hope that this will attract tourists, which in turn would allow the owners of the houses to earn money and become more eager to share similar finds in the future.
Photographs by Robert Słaboński. Top to bottom: Katarzyna Radnicka at work, Chajul murals, Lucas Asicona Ramírez (far right) with his family.
Original text: www.nauka.uj.edu.pl