Plaster Art: "Graffiti" in a Sage’s Chamber at El Castillo acropolis of Xunantunich, Belize

Author(s): Leah McCurdy; M. Kathryn Brown

Year: 2018


In 2016, we discovered a sage’s chamber in the El Castillo acropolis at the ancient Maya site of Xunantunich, Belize. In the Late Classic Tut Building on the east side of El Castillo, all interior and exterior plaster walls are incised with "graffiti." The total number of elements documented is nearly 300 with themes ranging from human and animal forms to glyphs and multi-figure scenes. We expect to encounter more in future field seasons. Based on a variety of factors, we view this as practice art created by scribes/sages in training and for preparatory purposes. It appears that Maya scribes were using plaster walls as chalkboards to learn iconography, experiment with features, and sketch for various projects. The term "graffiti" does not adequately reflect these finds and their implications for understanding ancient Maya culture. These ‘plaster art’ finds share many qualities and conservation concerns with rock art. Further, our recording methods parallel many of the strategies employed in rock art studies across the world. With this paper, our goal is to present our findings, discuss labels and methodologies, and open a dialogue with rock art specialists for the benefit of "graffiti" studies in the Maya region and Mesoamerica generally.

Cite this Record

Plaster Art: "Graffiti" in a Sage’s Chamber at El Castillo acropolis of Xunantunich, Belize. Leah McCurdy, M. Kathryn Brown. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444367)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.197; min lat: 16.004 ; max long: -86.682; max lat: 21.984 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 18779