Making a Mark: Exploring the Archaeology of Modern and Ancient Graffiti

One interesting thing in Zimmerman’s article “Activism and Creating a Translational Archaeology of Homelessness” was that some homeless people use graffiti as social commentary and also express themselves by marking public spaces with signs of their heritage. Disappointingly, I could not find much information on the culture surrounding the graffiti of the homeless, (perhaps a new area for archaeology to explore!) but I did discover that people have been leaving their personal mark wherever they go since ancient times.

The best-preserved examples of ancient graffiti come from the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were buried after the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. One thing that seems clear (at least in these two cities) is that graffiti wasn’t surrounded by the same negative connotations of today. Common in the graffiti of these cities were advertisements and political campaigns, so we can infer that graffiti was more accepted in those times. Also found were doodles and random scrawls that people etched into public places to leave their mark. Much of the graffiti is not unlike some that you would see in a bathroom today, with name-calling and simple messages such as one inscription found in Pompeii that reads: “Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here.” Clearly, putting our own personal stamp on our world, even if we think it will only be for a short while, is something that dates back to ancient times.

Graffiti of names found preserved in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum

In modern times, graffiti has an intense negative connotation and is seen as dirty, illegal, and disrespectful. However, modern graffiti is not just the vandalism that many think it to be. Of course, graffiti exists that is similar to Pompeii’s name-calling messages, but a lot of it can be considered art. Even “tagging,” or, spray-painting your name on a wall to mark your artistic territory, can be beautiful. In fact, some graffiti hangs in museums today, showing that the streets can be a canvas and graffiti is not simply vandalism. Also, as is mentioned in the Zimmerman article, a lot of graffiti today portrays the artist’s commentary on the social world around them. Perhaps we could learn a lot about a neighborhood from what kind of graffiti is present.

A modern work of street art demonstrating the use of social commentary in today’s graffiti

It may not seem like it, but graffiti has a lot to do with archaeology, and much of that connection is still left unexplored. Graffiti is by no means a modern invention, and, in fact, people have been writing similar things on bathroom walls for centuries. Throughout time, people have been doing graffiti in the hopes of leaving a permanent, or at least semi-permanent mark on their world to show that they were there, even if only briefly. Wanting to be remembered is a universal human trait, and by looking at graffiti, both old and new, through the lens of archaeology, we can help uncover how people attempted to immortalize themselves. Although graffiti is not something you can hold in your hand, it is just as telling about a society as ceramics or projectile points.



Baird, J. A., and Claire Taylor. Ancient Graffiti in Context. NY, NY: Routledge, 2011. GoogleBooks. Google. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

Patel, S. S. 2007. Writing on the wall: the graffiti archaeology project challenges the discipline of archaeology. Archaeology, 60(4): 50–53.

Pilny, Susanna. “Why Ancient Roman Graffiti Is so Important to Archaeologists.” Redorbit. N.p., 05 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017. <>.

Zimmerman, Larry J., Courtney Singleton, and Jessica Welch. “Activism and Creating a Translational Archaeology of Homelessness.” World Archaeology 42.3 (2010): 443-54. Taylor and Francis Online. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.


Image sources:


Additional Info:

Ancient and Modern Graffiti in Rome:

Skid Robot- incorporating the homeless into graffiti :

Bioarchaeology Helps Shed New Light on Ancient Mysteries

Since Howard Carter unveiled the tomb of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen in 1922, the world has been fascinated with the king. One major question surrounding Tut is the circumstance of his sudden death. Using bioarchaeology, archaeologists may have found a conclusive answer.

From examining Tut’s body along with written records, it’s evident that Tut died around 19 years old and his burial was rushed and unexpected. The tomb is small for a pharaoh, so Egyptologists speculate that it wasn’t originally intended for Tut, but they needed to bury him quickly (more on this that may lead to new discoveries in the link at the bottom). Bioarchaeology confirms Tut’s hurried burial. Mold-like spots appear on the tomb walls, and comparison of old and new photographs prove they haven’t changed since 1922, suggesting the spots are ancient. Recent microbial analysis confirms this by showing that the spots contain melanins, a sign of the metabolism of fungus, but no living microbes were found. The environment of the walls’ wet paint combined with foodstuffs buried with Tut would’ve created the perfect environment for microbial growth, resulting in the spots.

A photo of the southern wall of King Tut’s tomb with visible mold-like spots

What could be the reason for Tutankhamen’s early and unexpected demise? Many have speculated about murder, a chariot accident, and even an unfortunate hippopotamus encounter. However, the bioarchaeology tells a much less dramatic story. Previously, the chariot accident was the leading theory on Tut’s death, as some chariots were buried with him and according to his mummy’s early CT scans, he suffered a fatal blow to the head. Bioarchaeologists debunked this theory when they determined Tut’s head injury was post-mortem (after death), probably sustained either in the mummification process or the mishandling of the body by Carter’s team. Also, bioarchaeology reveals from new CT scans that king Tut couldn’t even stand on a chariot, let alone ride one, as he had a clubfoot. In his tomb, archaeologists found 130 used walking canes, supporting the analysis that Tut needed a cane to walk.

The reason for his deformities? King Tut was born out of incest. Genetic testing of Tut and other mummies confirms that his father and mother were full siblings (further details of this found in the link at the bottom). While incest to keep the royal bloodline pure was not uncommon, it could have disastrous effects for the offspring, like Tut.

A 3-D rendition of what Tut would’ve have looked like during his lifetime, based on updated and extensive CT scans of his mummy

A clubfoot and an incestuous birth wouldn’t have been enough to kill Tut, but it would’ve weakened his immune system. Bioarchaeology’s analysis of Tut’s body found signs that he contracted malaria, possibly many times during his life. Tut possibly had some immunity to malaria because of his geographical location, but with Tut’s weakened immune system combined with a leg fracture (with possible complications), it’s likely that the disease killed him.

Pop culture depicts King Tutankhamen as a mysterious king under a golden mask who tragically died young, but bioarchaeology shows the real picture: a deformed teenager, barely able to walk, suffering from malaria and the effects of incest.



Further details of genetic testing:


Further Reading:

On the Life of Akhenaten (Tut’s likely father):

On the debate of hidden chambers in Tut’s tomb:


Image Sources:

Tut’s tomb southern wall:*:1000

Tut body recreation: