Methodological Approaches to Recording Ancient Maya Incised Graffiti: A Case Study From Structure A-5-2nd at Xunantunich

Date
2023
Authors
Nowakowski, Lauren
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Abstract

Ancient Maya graffiti is a historically understudied topic within Maya archaeology. With recent technological advances in photography and recording methods, more accurate documentation of Maya graffiti is leading to more in-depth analyses and broader interpretations of this important artform. Graffiti is defined broadly as any secondary addition to a surface, architectural or other, in the Maya region, but the focus of this thesis is the documentation of incised graffiti elements into plaster surfaces. While scholarship on ancient Maya graffiti is growing, it is hampered by the variable quality of past documentation methodologies. Much of the incised graffiti within the Maya region is found on extremely fragile plaster surfaces, and it varies in terms of depth of incision, with some so faint that they are invisible to the naked eye. The fragility of graffiti, and the growing interest in understanding the functions that it may have served in Maya society, underscores the necessity for identifying and improving the most accurate documentation techniques. This thesis analyzes techniques that have been applied to the documentation of ancient Maya graffiti across time, using a case study of Structure A-5-2nd in the main acropolis of El Castillo at Xunantunich in Belize. Two rooms excavated in Structure A5-2nd contain hundreds of graffiti elements incised on the plaster walls, doorjambs, and benches. Thus is an excellent location for a comparative study of multiple recording methodologies. Through a systematic examination of the benefits and disadvantages of each technique, we can come to a better understanding of different methodologies and determine which are best suited for various field situations. The techniques examined in this study are Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), hand mapping, Mylar tracing, and the conversion of these methods into digital line drawings. By applying these techniques to the graffiti of Structure A-5- 2nd, this study identifies the advantages and disadvantages of each technique to different field settings. In doing so, this research aims to improve our documentation of ancient Maya graffiti and ensure the production of data that can lead to stronger interpretations of this ancient art form.

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Keywords
Archaeological Illustration, Belize, Maya Archaeology, Maya Graffiti, Reflectance Transformation Imaging, Xunantunich
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Department
Anthropology