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ANATOMY OF A


final phase sub-v phase penultimate phase


“In terms of analytical science, my data are large murals, and fragments of them, buried inside ancient Maya build- ings,” says Skidmore anthropology professor Heather Hurst ’97. Since 2001, Hurst has been part of the archaeological team investigating the Maya site at San Bartolo, Guatemala, where she and her colleagues discovered “some of the ear- liest Maya paintings combining images and text, dating to circa 300 BC.” The murals are deep within pyramids that the Maya destroyed and filled in when they built newer structures on top, around 100 BC. In chamber Sub-1A, roughly 12 feet by 30 feet, the team found two murals intact and some 3,200 fragments on the floor.


To study the murals’ physical makeup, Hurst collaborates with materials scientist Caitlin O’Grady. With a portable x-ray fluo- rescence device from the new Skidmore Analytical Interdis- ciplinary Laboratory (funded with a National Science Foun- dation grant), they can analyze the chemistry of the art in situ, without disturbing it. Taking more than 300 XRF read- ings from yellow, red, black, and white paint in Sub-1A, the duo “collected data including the signature wavelengths of individual elements and their intensities, revealing different paint formulas in different areas of the artworks.”


18 SCOPE WINTER 2012


D. STEWART, 2010


LAS PINTURAS, ILLUSTRATION BY HEATHER HURST ’97, 2005


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